Helpful alternatives for break

Junior Josh Williams is going to California for spring break, but he’s not going for the beach, the sun or the girls.

He’s going to help people infected with HIV and AIDS.

Williams is one of many students who signed up for Volunteer USF’s Alternative Spring Breaks, a program that offers students opportunities to spend their vacation in various parts of the country while helping the surrounding community or environment.

“I wanted to be involved with this cause because I would like to be involved with AIDS work after college, and I wanted some first-hand experience before then,” said Williams, who will work with AIDS Projects L.A. “I also enjoy volunteering.”

The destinations are as diverse as the service projects. From Washington, D.C., to New York City, to the Florida Keys, Alternative Spring Breaks allows USF students the opportunity to contribute to a good cause while experiencing new and interesting places.

Through this program, USF students will be fixing houses for senior citizens, tutoring abused or abandoned children and helping infants with medical problems. Others will be helping with environmental issues in the Everglades, volunteering with mentally disabled children and adults or tutoring English to refugees in Texas.

Senior Claire Street, the Blast Campus Programs development chair at Volunteer USF, went on an Alternative Spring Breaks trip to Washington, D.C., where she worked with the Community for Creative Non-Violence, the world’s largest homeless shelter, which is run mostly by unpaid volunteers who were formerly homeless.

“We just got a different perspective on everything,” Street said. “My group was warned beforehand that the center often provided a place for homeless people to die peacefully. We sat there and played cards with them.

“It really shaped how we viewed the homeless and the way that we saw each other. Everyone really felt attached to the men that we spent time with because they were really personable. We were really able to have one-on-one conversations with these people and understand their lives. We felt for them.”

Williams said that he is both excited and nervous about his upcoming trip to Los Angeles, where an estimated 30,000 people have AIDS or HIV, according to the City of Los Angeles AIDS Coordinator’s Office.

“I’m really looking forward to the actual experience of talking to people who have AIDS and hearing their life story,” he said. “However, that is actually the one thing I am most scared about: learning their real life story, hearing about how they cope with the disease. It’s kind of like a double-edged sword.”

One damper on the Alternative Spring Breaks program is that the two trips to New Orleans might be canceled due to hurricane damage. One involves a Rebuilding Together program, in which volunteers will be building houses and staying in a cabin at the State Park. The other works with Boys Town, a youth mentoring organization. All students signing up for these two activities are asked to have a second choice ready.

These trips are fairly inexpensive, with costs that rest in the $100-$350 price range, depending on where the trip is to and what kind of lodging is provided.

Applications for Alternative Spring Breaks are due Oct. 28 at 5 p.m. A short essay is required as well as a $100 deposit. There will be an information session held at 5 p.m. on Monday in Room 269 of the Phyllis P. Marshall Center.

“Be ready to be shaken up,” Williams said. “I’m looking forward to getting really shaken up about something I’m not too familiar with and having an amazing experience in the process.”