This past spring break many Auburn students could be found relaxing on the beach, exploring Disney World or spending time with their family, however, 45 students chose to spend their break in a different way. Members of Alternative Student Breaks, or ASB, traveled to Florida, North Carolina, Ecuador and the Dominican Republic to volunteer their time and labor in the local communities.
These trips are unlike any vacations that most students take, and program advisor Robert Powers often describes it as, “the toughest break you will ever love.”
In Hendersonville, North Carolina students volunteered with a local organization called Housing Assistance, where they helped with the construction of housing and housing repairs around the city. By working directly with the community, students are able to step out of their comfort zones and leave an impact with lasting results.
In Kissimmee, Florida students worked with children with terminal illnesses in Give Kids the World Village, while students in Ecuador traveled to open-air markets and assisted an on-site educator while getting to interact with the children there. In the Dominican Republic, students had the opportunity to run a street medical clinic and help with a neighborhood feeding program.
Amanda Barag, a senior at Auburn, had the opportunity to go on the trip to Kissimmee, Florida. She didn’t hold back any emotion when asked about her experiences and why she chose to go. “I decided to apply when I saw that one of the spring break trips was at Give Kids the World Village because, through Auburn University Dance Marathon, I’ve developed a passion for serving children and their families who are fighting or have fought life-threatening illnesses.” Each student had the chance to do many activities with the children and families there such as taking Disney character photos and helping to run the carousel ride. (see group, left, ASB blog)
She also talked about her time volunteering at Mustard Seed, which is a furniture and clothing bank to help rebuild the lives of families who have suffered disaster or personal tragedy by providing household furniture and clothing. Students got to have some fun at Mustard Seed with the materials that came in. “They recycle all the donated mattresses that cannot be given to families and some of us got to rip them apart!” said Amanda.
Throughout the trip, many students blogged and wrote about their experiences serving so their friends and family members could read about them while they were away. The site leader for the trip to the Dominican Republic, Shaby Hakemy, talked about how grateful she was to the parents of the students on the trip for letting them go and serve somewhere far. In her post on the last day of the trip, she said “With tears in my eyes as I’m typing this, I can confidently say I’ve never been so fond of a group of people.
Throughout this week, I’ve seen them laugh until there were tears in their eye, comfort and hug one another during tough moments, and most importantly display their hearts on their sleeves not only to one another, but to the people of the county.” Even though the trip lasted only a week, each team felt like family when they returned. Many of them plan to get lunch and hang out together on campus because of how close they became in such a short time.
Another prominent student who feels passionate about giving back and serving others is ASB member and president, Hunter Whitten. “Going on an ASB trip is more than just helping others, which is a big part of it, but also it allows you to learn more about yourself. I have been able to truly find out who I am as a person, as a leader, and as an Auburn student.” Whitten has been on six trips during his time at Auburn.
He began with a disaster relief effort in Atlanta City, New Jersey and an MLK Day of Service that was centered on community development in Selma, Alabama. Among these trips, he has also helped with disaster relief in Moore, Oklahoma, affordable housing in Hendersonville, children’s healthcare in Little Rock, Arkansas and community development in Costa Rica. Whitten says, “By spending my spring break doing outreach, I can help other people who are in need and that gives me a greater joy than going skiing or to the beach.”
The organization started in 2009 at Auburn University, with the first trip sending students to Charleston, South Carolina over spring break. Since then, the organization has expanded to 11 trips per year, with 3 of them being international. The first international trip was in 2011 to Quito, Ecuador. Each trip takes about 10 to 12 students from all grades and majors.
It can be easy for students to feel intimidated about signing up, especially if they don’t know anyone attending one of the trips. However, that has encouraged many students to take a leap of faith and get out of their comfort zone to build new relationships and create new memories. (ASB 2017 staff, see image below, ASB blog)
Hannah Williams, a junior at Auburn who attended the trip in Kissimmee, Florida with Amanda said she gained friendships and perspectives she never had before. Like Amanda, she knew no one going on the trip. “I will forever look back on this trip as one of my favorite memories of being an Auburn student. I felt that I was a part of something bigger than myself, and with a group from Auburn nonetheless.”
When asked if she would ever return or consider doing another trip with ASB, the answer was clear by the excitement and passion in her voice. “Before we even left the village, we were all talking about going back next year. Giving up the typical college spring break was so worth it. I couldn’t imagine spending my time any other way.”
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