While many students were soaking up the sun in Cancun and the Bahamas, a group of UM students had a different idea of how best to spend spring break.
Leaving behind suntan lotion and hedonistic desires, over 70 students spent their vacation divided amongst eleven volunteer sites across the country for this year’s Alternative Spring Break.
The students were divided into teams of about seven to nine people, based on the cause they preferred to volunteer for. Causes varied, including hunger and homelessness in Chicago; youth violence in Detroit; wetland restoration in Louisiana. Students also worked to improve the lives of migrant farm-workers in rural Florida; enhancing fine arts in city schools in Providence, R.I.; and supporting environmental protection in the Smoky Mountains.
“I wanted to participate because I feel like people in our generation have become spectators,” said Juan Pena, a senior who addressed issues of youth violence in Detroit last week “While we go to Cancun and etcetera, people in our country are falling through the cracks.”
“I felt like I got a lot more out of this experience than what I gave,” said Andrea Sauertieg, a senior psychology major who served as the leader for the HIV/AIDS site in Washington D.C.
Beginning 12 years ago when volunteers came together to help the community after Hurricane Andrew, Alternative Spring Break has since grown into a well-developed program committed to promoting active citizenship.
It is part of a larger national organization called Breakaway, which immerses students in different cultures, heightens social awareness, and advocates lifelong social action.
Yasmin Bootwala, a senior serving as chairperson of this year’s ASB said she had a ten member executive board and 12 site leaders to make all of the trips a success.
“Obviously the program would die without the outstanding participants themselves,” Bootwalla said. “ASB runs on good hearts and good people.”
Bootwala said they held a raffle earlier in the year to raise money to help alleviate the costs of the trips. She’s hoping for an alternative fall break and an international spring break site next year.
“I felt so gratified and fulfilled when I got back,” said Shelly Stromoski, a senior majoring in public relations, who spent her week working with the Kensington Welfare Rights Union in Philadelphia. “That’s something you can’t get from going on a regular vacation.”