More than 60 University of Colorado at Boulder students will forgo spring break vacations this month to help rebuild hurricane-ravaged Biloxi, Miss., work on trails in Yosemite National Park or engage in seven other service activities from South Dakota to Mexico.
The students will participate in nine different trips organized by the Alternative Breaks program of CU's Volunteer Clearing House. Other trips include building housing in Agua Prieta, Mexico, and bunk beds on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota or helping disadvantaged youth in Houston, the homeless in Las Vegas or a women's shelter in Kansas City, Kan.
CU's spring break is March 24-28 but some students will leave on their Alternative Breaks trip the evening of March 21. Eleven Alternative Breaks programs are being offered this year, more than twice as many as last year, including the first-ever trips offered during winter break and following the end of spring semester.
Another first is the hiring of CU's first paid coordinator of the Alternative Breaks program, CU senior Brie Sampson, who began going on service trips when she was a freshman. Sampson has now made three trips in the program to Shiprock, N.M., New Orleans and Dallas.
In addition to involving CU students in community service, the projects also expose students to issues faced by people with whom they might otherwise have little or no contact, Sampson said. All students take part in pre-trip training about the issue they will help to address before they set off on their trip.
"It was definitely an eye-opener for me and eliminated a lot of stereotypes," Sampson said. "It takes a lot of person-to-person interaction and that is something I became very comfortable in doing."
CU junior Alyssa Willet took her first Alternative Breaks trip as a freshman to help a battered women's shelter in Shiprock, N.M., and will be one of two trip leaders this month going to Los Angeles to work with three AIDS-related organizations. "I just loved the experience so much," Willet said of her trip to Shiprock. "I made lifelong friends with other CU students and wanted to come back as a trip leader to do more service."
The six students will stay at a local church in Los Angeles. Before the trip the students have held three meetings to prepare, including a visit to the Boulder County AIDS Project in Boulder.
Alexander Rowan is one of two trip leaders making a 22-hour drive to Biloxi, Miss., as part of a six-student group working with Hands On Gulf Coast. The CU students will join with college students from several other schools to help fix houses damaged by Hurricane Katrina and will work with local high school students in after-school programs.
Another CU-Boulder group will travel to Portland, Ore., to work in a warehouse that recycles building materials for the community. The CU students also will help educate high school students on environmental issues.
CU-Boulder last month was one of only three colleges and universities in the United States to receive a 2007 Presidential Award for General Community Service. The student-sponsored Volunteer Clearing House, one of the first organizations of its kind in the nation, has worked to fill community needs since 1965.