As winter comes to a bitter end, Auburn students readily greet the coming spring season with open arms and hopeful plans for a weeklong island getaway, free of tests, homework or papers. Dreams of beach bumming with a cool drink in hand, as the waves crash and Caribbean music plays from a nearby tiki bar, dance in the heads of many.
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Approximately 50 of these students have different hopes for their week off as they plan to get their hands dirty and serve communities in need, both nationally and internationally. They get to live the experience through Auburn’s student-run service program, Alternative Spring Breaks.
Alternative Spring Breaks (ASB) is a program offered by the Center for Community Service that provides students with an affordable, substance-free service learning experience and a chance to make a lasting impact in the communities they work in.
Steven Sheffield, ASB’s president and a senior majoring in finance, says that after students participate in service projects and see the problems the communities face firsthand, they are encouraged to continue their service in the Auburn-Opelika community.
“Seeing students’ dedication to serving communities, not only during their academic breaks, but for the rest of their lives, has been inspirational,” Sheffield said.
This spring break, students will take trips to locations including Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Apopka, Fla., Kissimmee, Fla., and Cranks Creek, Ky.
During trips to Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic, students will participate in a wide range of volunteer work from construction to working in orphanages and medical clinics.
Students traveling to Kissimmee, Fla., will work with children with terminal illnesses through an organization called Give the Kids the World.
The trip to Cranks Creek, Ky., will focus on rural poverty in Appalachia and those traveling to Apopka, Fla., will focus on social advocacy as they work alongside immigrants and farm workers.
Sheffield says site leaders discover locations in need through research. Leaders look at reports of previous trips as well as the database of the national organization ASB serves, Break Away, in order to find an issue they are passionate about.
Becca Menke, a junior majoring in applied mathematics, will serve as a site leader this spring break, working alongside 13 students in Cranks Creek, Ky.
“Having planned my entire trip from scratch, I am excited to be able to serve both my participants and the people we will be serving to make everybody’s experience a meaningful one,” Menke said.
The group will spend their week doing small-scale construction work for people living in poverty. Menke says the group could be assigned to doing anything from dry walling or painting to building a handicapped ramp or fixing a roof.
“People are always so grateful and respond in such a positive way,” Menke said. “They love seeing a group of college kids giving up their school holidays to do something worthwhile.”
Heather Henley, a junior majoring in elementary education, spent her spring break last year in Costa Rica doing construction on a local church, volunteering at a wildlife preserve center and working at an orphanage.
While there, she did more than lend a helping hand. She made a new best friend, a 5-year-old girl named Yolanda, while working at the orphanage.
“We were attached at the hip,” Henley said. “I think of her often and miss dancing and playing soccer with her.”
Henley says that her week spent working with Alternative Spring Breaks was different from the typical 7-day beach party most college spring breaks are portrayed as consisting of.
“This spring break had a lot more purpose,” Henley said. “After coming back, I was able to feel proud that I had used my break to do something good and help make a difference.”
To participate in Alternative Spring Breaks, you must be a student at Auburn, have a minimum GPA of 2.5, submit an application and attend all training meetings.
“Other than that, students just need to have a heart for service!” Sheffield said.