Alternative spring break doubles its applicants

The head of USF’s volunteer program had a good problem Wednesday – good for anyone who fosters student charity work.

There were more applications from students who wanted a spot in the University’s humanitarian Alternative Spring Break program than available slots.

ASB received more than 350 electronic applications for this year’s program, more than twice last year’s 150 applications.

Although the program cap prevents some students from participating, the dramatic increase in interest bodes well for augmenting the scope and size of ASB in the future, Director of the Center of Civic Engagement and Volunteerism Amy Simon said.

“The only thing stopping us is what can we afford to do and what can we can manage,” she said.

Simon speculated the shift from a paper application process to an easier electronic one helped to boost the number of applicants. On Wednesday, the last day for students to submit paperwork to ASB, more applied for the program than did during all of last year, Simon said. Most applications were submitted over the weekend. Fewer than 100 of them were sent last week, and by Tuesday there were 200, Simon said.

“I think it means that students are really interested in service and shows how the University has put more of an emphasis on it,” she said.

Students will be selected based on their responses to short-answer questions designed to gauge their commitment to the program, said Rachael Tackett, who coordinates on-site housing for ASB.

ASB began at USF in 2001, offering only one trip, but the program continues to grow each year. This year the program offers 19 site options, including an international trip to Costa Rica. The U.S. locations span the nation, from the Everglades to New York, Chicago to Orange County. The various services include construction, hospital work, assisting the homeless, cooking, farming, youth education and environmental work.

“The program provides an amazing experience, with spending an entire week immersed in whatever kind of community service project you choose,” said Sriram Madhusoodanan, member of the ASB leadership board who attended past trips that included working with the homeless and the environment. “You’re not just reading about it in a textbook or seeing it on the street and feeling disconnected.”

Participation in ASB is a yearlong process. Students apply and then form groups with site leaders to prepare for the trips. There is a fee for students to participate, but ASB offers fundraising opportunities to offset some expenses. To keep the cost as affordable as possible, the leadership board plans for students to stay at inexpensive housing, such as churches. After figuring a standard budget for necessities – food, gas and housing – ASB then assess a participation fee. Expenses not covered by the fees or fundraising are absorbed by the ASB program.

For students who missed the Oct. 24 deadline, there are still volunteer opportunities. In May the Alternative Breaks program will sponsor a service and civil rights trip called Freedom Rides through the South.

“If students want to get involved with service projects, we’ll hook them up,” Simon said. “I hate to turn people away.”

Jaclyn DeVore can be reached at (813) 974-6299 or