Alternative breaks promote service learning

Spring break is often seen as a time that college students go wild, converging on warm places like Florida and Mexico, doing what could be objectively considered the opposite of healthy and productive activities.

Alternative breaks, however, give students a short-term opportunity to volunteer and give back to another community.

Lily Nagy-Deak, coordinator of Hillel’s spring break trip to Trinidad and Tobago, said evem though spring break is short, it is still enough time to do something meaningful.

Hillel’s trip will involve a partnership with two organizations: Amizade, a global service learning organization, and the affiliated Dorcas Women’s Group.

Nagy-Deak emphasized the trip will involve “service learning” rather than simply the physical act of service.

Ann Elise Trafford, UW-Madison student and director of Wisconsin Union Directorate’s alternative spring break programming, said “service learning” is also central to WUD’s trips.

“We are trying to emphasize that we are going to learn from the communities we are working in, not to teach them,” Trafford said. “You are going to be immersed in someone else’s life, and hopefully you learn as much from them as they do from you.”

WUD is coordinating a variety of spring break 2015 trips, from an equine rehabilitation center in Kentucky to another at The Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in North Dakota.

Trafford said spending spring break with WUD last year at Earthworks Urban Farm in Detroit had a large influence on her life.

“I got to meet people who have the job that I would want in the future,” Trafford said. “You get hands on experience with an issue, which really makes it real in a way that reading about something in a textbook cannot.”

Another organization, Habitat For Humanity - UW-Madison Campus Chapter, will send participants to Wilmington, North Carolina this spring break to build a house for a family.

Alex Larson-Osbourne, a UW-Madison student and a member of Habitat for Humanity - UW-Madison Campus Chapter’s board of directors, said she is a strong supporter of alternative breaks.

“It’s safer than regular trips, a lot less stress, you make life-long friends, and it’s really rewarding,” Larson-Osbourne said. “It might not be as crazy as Panama City Beach, but we know how to have fun.”

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