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Alternative break trips and “service staycations” expand student learning, service

Spring break gives students a break from the classroom, but for those who choose an alternative break, learning and service continues. Over the past month, many of our “engaged campuses” organized such service experiences near and far. NC Campus Compact AmeriCorps VISTAs (and former VISTAs) helped lead some of these trips, which give college students a chance to visit new places or immerse themselves in issues closer to home. Each alternative spring break (ASB) trip built on the VISTA’s primary project focus: k-12 education, economic opportunity, or food security.

UNCP students serve with a Philadelphia non-profit.

VISTA Dalton Hoffer co-led a trip to the national historic city of Philadelphia for a packed week of activities and service opportunities. The group served four different community organizations in the area: Philabundance Food Bank, Jewish Relief Agency, Philadelphia Reads, and Cradles to Crayons. These agencies allowed them to learn how Philadelphia is working on improving its literacy rate and interacting with volunteers. The students then took that knowledge back to Robeson County which also holds a low literacy statistic. Six of the 9 participating students are mentors in the Brave Impact Mentoring Program Dalton helped create. Focusing on leadership and citizenship, Dalton said the trip “allowed [the mentors] to work with and see how other partners utilize volunteers and interact with students” and led to conversations about how to bring that work back to Robeson county and inspire a sense of pride in that work throughout the community. Check out Dalton’s video recap of UNCP’s trip.

Wake Forest’s service “staycation” continued volunteer service at a key community partner.

VISTA Anna Donze at Wake Forest University focused her trip in the community by hosting a service Staycation at her community partner site, El Buen Pastor Latino Community Services. Typically the site struggles during WFU’s Spring Break as it loses the majority of its volunteer tutors for a week. The 7 WFU students on the trip served as tutors for the duration of the week, played with and supervised the elementary students during their free time and volunteered in the garden. One WFU student said of the experience, “We are helping nurture, mentor, and guide our next generation of youth. We are putting our heads together to care for the young people that will impact this world in years to come.” They also designed and led a “Vocab Bowl” for the students to practice some vocabulary words that they may not use in the classroom, as the majority of the students speak only Spanish at home. Anna not only helped coordinate the trip, but also took note of the week’s highlights to incorporate them next year for Staycation round two.

Duke students “Dive Into Durham”

VISTA Takira Dale with the Duke Community Service Center also stayed close to home to host her Dive into Durham ASB trip. During this 5 day service experience, Takira and her supervisor, Assistant Director of CSC Programs Domonique Redmond, led 10 students working with various community agencies including Duke Gardens, Urban Ministries of Durham, the Durham Food Bank, Habitat for Humanity, Genesis Home, Lakewood Community Garden, and the West End Mobile Market. These agencies are committed to fighting hunger and homelessness in Durham, and align with Takira’s primary food security project through the Community Service Center. After the service events, Takira led reflection discussions and panels, and created a contact list for these student volunteers to stay engaged in the community throughout their undergraduate career and into their futures. She said of the week, “One interesting aspect of this ASB was experiencing the wide variety of people working on solving issues of homelessness, hunger and poverty. All these organizations may have different methods but most are surprisingly interconnected.”

WCU students conducted food assessment surveys for Lower Ninth Ward Food coaliton.

VISTA Willie Jones also focused on food security and homelessness for his ASB, a complement to his primary project at Western Carolina University where he is establishing a volunteer gleaning program and reinvigorating the campus garden. Willie and his supervisor Dr. Lane Perry, Director of the Center for Service Learning, led a group of 17 students to New Orleans to work with Green LightThe Green Project, and Lower Nine, all organizations who’s focuses are to alleviate hunger and homelessness. Willie says, “This was the first time WCU has traveled to NOLA and the first time [WCU] has worked with any of these partners.” The Center for Service Learning is currently developing a system that will allow the university to have multiple alternative break locations that can be rotated out on a yearly or bi-yearly basis. “This way,” Willie says, “the university will be able to maintain the relationship they built with these communities.” Willie served as the food insecurity and gardening expert for the group.

ECU breakers maintain a rain garden at an elementary school.

VISTA Shifra Sered co-chaperoned a group of 9 East Carolina University students on their ASB trip to Carteret County, North Carolina, where they stayed at Camp Albemarle; ECU’s long-time ASB host. The group served primarily at NC Coastal Federation, but also served with Habitat for Humanity and the Hope Mission soup kitchen. “By living in an intentional community and learning to rely on one another for support,” Shifra said, “we were able to delve into service and educational experiences that challenged us to evaluate and articulate our values surrounding community, inequality, social responsibility and environmental justice.” The group immersed themselves in the experience in part by limiting their food budget to the current food stamp allocation, and by adopting the sustainable lifestyle practices they learned through their service. Shifra designed and facilitated educational and reflection activities for the students as well. She says that after the trip, “We charged all of the student participants…to design and implement a sustainability project back at ECU…[which will hopefully] lead to a student-run sustainability club on campus.”

VISTA Bevelyn Ukah and her supervisor James Shields, led a group of Guilford College Bonner Leaders to Charleston, South Carolina and St. Helena Island to learn about the history and contemporary realities of the Gulla Geechie nation, specifically as they relate to race and class relations in the area. The goal of this trip was to give the students the practice working in teams to analyze poverty and diversity using place-based critical thinking.

NC Campus Compact’s very own Office Manager, Rene Summers, also co-led a group of 9 Elon University students on a mission trip all the way to St. James Jamaica to serve with an organization called Mustard Seed Communities, which serves children with special needs. The group spent part of their trip with the children and the other part completing projects ranging from light construction work, painting, farming and landscaping alongside the community and MSC staff. Rene and the group arrived safely back in Elon this week, but they will continue to hold meetings to reflect on their experiences.

At Wake Technical Community College, Mariel Steinbeiser (former VISTA and current Assistant Coordinator of the Office of Volunteerism and Leadership) organized a trip to New York City where WTCC students partnered with Youth Service Opportunity Project (YSOP) to serve and learn about hunger and homelessness in New York. Read about their experience on their trip blog.

All of these campuses have been planning their trips for months. Though each of project may seem different, the goal of all is to engage students in a deeper conversation with and understanding of their communities. Whether the groups went North to Philly, South to NOLA, stayed in the state, or stayed right in their neighborhood, NC Campus Compact VISTAs are shifting the conversation these students are having and preparing the next generation of leaders and community organizers.

One student from from Takira Dale’s Dive into Durham aptly sums up the ASB mindset: “Volunteering is so easy and refreshing, we should do it more often…I have no good reason to not be doing more.”

Learn more about organizing and implementing an alternative break trip on our Alternative Break Resource page. Share your campuses alternative spring break experiences and outcomes on our Facebook page.


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