Taking time to help out

Sophomore Naomi Levy helped to sand and paint a community center in the Bangu favela of Rio De Janeiro, Brazil during Hillel's 2009 Alternative Spring Break trip. Matt Wallach//The Miami Hurricane

While some students jet off to exotic locales or tan by the pool, a dedicated group of University of Miami Alternative Breaks (UMAB) participants will spend their spring vacation helping others and immersing themselves in a different way of life.

This coming week, a total of 145 students will travel to sites around the United States during spring break to perform community service. Working to make a difference and promote social change, UMAB offers this opportunity at a low cost to enable as many students as possible to participate. The $225 fee covers all airfare, transportation, accommodations and most meals.

“Students get to help out and go to a new place in the United States for one week,” said junior Stephanie Jimenez, a program participant last year. “You make lasting friendships and you have a memorable spring break. When you get back, you can actually say you did something you will never forget; it’s a great program.”

This year UMAB is sending students to volunteer at 17 different sites throughout the country depending on what issue they will be working to promote. From aiding the elderly in Huntsville, Ala. to promoting LGBTQ equality rights in Los Angeles, these students are serious about making a difference in the lives of others.

“I never do anything during spring break and thought it might be cool to actually do something that involves helping others,” senior Lisbeth Reyes said. “My group and I are going to Fonda, N.Y. and we will be staying in the Mohawk Tribe community… I want to be able to help the tribe in restoring what belongs to them.”

Co-chair of UMAB junior Claire Heckerman feels that alternative spring break is a worthwhile experience and that students should consider the opportunity.

“You can always go out to the club and party; you’re in Miami,” Heckerman said. “But [alternative break is] something different, it’s something new… you really do get inspired; you can make that difference and you see it.”

Fellow co-chair, junior Muhil Prabakar shares similar sentiments.

“Our whole goal is not to have students go over for one week and volunteer and come back and not do anything about it,” Prabakar said. “Our intention is for them to come back and…carry on this passion. We hope that people can go on these trips and understand that there are issues in our country that need to be solved… Many people feel that the things they do might not make an impact, [but] by doing alternative breaks, you realize it’s the small changes that really matter.”

University of Miami Alternative Break (UMAB)

WHEN: Service trips during fall and spring break

WHERE: Locations vary on the issue and are not revealed until students have been accepted into the program to work on a specific issue.

COST: $225 fee, payment plans are available (the fee supplements the cost of the program; fundraising and SAFAC help to cover the remaining costs)

APPLY: Applications will be available next fall and spring. Keep an eye out for the UMAB showcases to learn more about the program and issues available next year.

ISSUES: The 17 issues covered this spring by UMAB include: children’s issues, education and immigration of children, disabilities, HIV/AIDS and youth, HIV/AIDS and homelessness, parks and recreation, rebuilding/reconstruction, rural poverty, poverty and education of children, animal rights, environmental issues, Native American issues, poverty/racism/injustice, elderly services and LGBTQ equality rights.

Danielle Kaslow may be contacted at dkaslow@themiamihurricane.com.