Last year, Elisa McQueen spent her spring break in San Francisco working with AIDS and HIV advocacy groups. While many students were enjoying their break from the stressful semester by visiting friends or lounging around, the 21-year-old microbiology major decided to try an alternative spring break and spend her time meeting new people and making a difference.
“I formed relationships with the people there that will last a lifetime,” McQueen said. “The reason I am back again is because I had such a good time. It was just a really powerful experience.”
Next week, college students from across the nation will volunteer their break and travel to a designated city to learn about social issues and the communities they are serving. This year, 166 USF students signed up through the Center for Civic Engagement and Volunteerism to work at 16 different sites around the country.
The volunteer sites include hurricane relief in Biloxi, Miss. with Hands on Gulf Coast; HIV/AIDS in Los Angeles with Project Angel Food; health in Memphis, Tenn. at Lebonheur Children’s Hospital; youth programs in Philadelphia with New Creation Lutheran Church and trail building in Tennessee with Cumberland Trail Conference, along with several more.
Cynara Stubbs has participated in Alternative Spring Break since its inception five years ago. The graduate assistant for the Center for Civic Engagement and Volunteerism, Stubbs will once again use her break to volunteer in a new city. Her trip this year will be to New York City with about 14 students working for Meals on Heels, a group that delivers food to individuals living with HIV or AIDS and the homeless.
Stubbs knows she will have a lifetime to visit beaches and hang out with friends, but as a USF student, she has a great opportunity to volunteer her time to make a difference in a community.
“In college, it’s supposed to be learning and getting students to understand what leadership is all about,” Stubbs said. “I think that Alternative Spring Break is the perfect avenue for them to do that.”
The students attending had to collect between $150-$400 each to attend, said coordinator Amy Simon. In addition, each group of students had to raise another $450 to cover the majority of the cost for transportation, lodging and food. Simon said students worked concession stands at Busch Gardens and the Outback Golf Tournament to raise the money.
These trips are no where near a vacation for the students.
Stubbs said students will be sleeping on church floors in sleeping bags, camping outside and some will be staying at a Boys and Girls club.
“The whole point of Alternative Spring Break is to break students out of their norm. It’s called alternative for a reason,” Stubbs said. “We’re not going to stay in a very fancy hotel. A lot of the time we find locations that require students to get a gist of their privileges and see things through a different light.” However, students will have the opportunity to see attractions exclusive to the particular city after their work shift, Stubbs said.
Though it doesn’t sound glamorous and may appear like a stressful way to spend a spring break, McQueen said she gets very excited during this time of year.
“I’m thrilled – I can’t believe it’s already here,” McQueen said. “I can’t imagine myself doing anything else on spring break. I feel like this is a much better use of my time.”