Service-Minded Students Make Alternative Spring Break Plans
Popular Program Builds 'Culture of Caring' and Immerses Participants in Community Issues
Mar. 7, 2013
Many of the Alternative Spring Break destinations involve revitalization and construction projects.
When Alternative Spring Break service projects were posted this year, UT Dallas students snapped up all available slots in less than 30 minutes.
The 88 UT Dallas students will head out March 10-16 to participate in one of 10 projects, from building homes for Habitat for Humanity in Jackson, Miss., to helping international refugee children transition into the U.S. education system in Atlanta, Ga.
What makes them so eager to spend spring break serving others rather than hitting the beach or otherwise taking it easy?
“We’ve worked hard to build a culture of caring and to find ways to make that fun,” said Monalisa Amidar, assistant director of the Office of Student Volunteerism at the University.
“The record-breaking response shows that the word has gotten out how awesome an experience this is. I’m more thrilled than surprised.”
While some recreational events are included in the agenda, students know ahead of time that they will focus on serving others, learning about social issues and developing leadership. They will perform about 40 hours of community outreach during the week.
Katie Walser, a UT Dallas student and athlete, participated in Alternative Spring Break in 2012.
Many will be putting into practice elsewhere what they’ve learned closer to home.
“Year-round we offer experiences in serving the local community. This takes it to another dimension as they learn about how social issues affect other communities,” Amidar said.
Matt Wyder, a finance and accounting senior, is taking on his third Alternative Spring Break project. He was drawn to one that is new for 2013: helping revitalize the Dry Creek Community neighborhood of the Cherokee Nation.
“It sounded really interesting because I know nothing about modern Cherokees. I thought it would be a good learning experience,” Wyder said.
He will be using primitive tools to build an authentic Cherokee hut out of clay and mud. The finished product will be displayed in a cultural heritage museum. Students will also meet with the tribe’s chief and share in a hog fry with their hosts.
In past years, Wyder has worked with Junior Achievement, teaching business principles to middle school children in New York, and helped organizations that work with the homeless in Washington, D.C.
“It seems like you might be giving up your spring break, but I never feel like I waste my spring break doing it,” Wyder said. “I usually have more fun than if I’d planned my own week, and I’ve made some strong connections with other students.”
Another new partner organization this year is Galveston Bay Foundation, whose project will teach students about coastal ecosystems and how they are affected by manmade and natural disasters. Tasks may include native plant propagation, sea grass restoration, wildlife habitat improvement, dune restoration, storm water treatment, public land restoration and invasive species removal.
Diana Kao, of the UT Dallas Office of Administration, took part in Alternative Spring Break as a student and plans to participate as a staff advisor this year.
A UT Dallas staff adviser travels with each group of six to 12 students. The trips vary in terms of location, service project and lodging, which can range from church facilities to community centers to state park cabins.
Support from the Student Affairs Student Fee Committee means participants pay a minimal fee for each trip, Amidar said. Students pay roughly $100 to $450, which covers transportation, lodging and meals for the week.
Diana Kao, a project coordinator with the Office of Administration, participated when she was a student and will be a staff adviser this year, helping with conservation efforts in Sequoyah State Park in Hulbert, Okla. Kao said the projects teach students practical skills. She’s learned how to use power tools, mix cement, build rails and change motor oil, for instance. They also help them learn leadership through the experience of taking ownership of an off-campus event.
“I remember coming back from my first year feeling like it was one of the best spent spring breaks I had ever experienced,” Kao said. “I got to be a part of something bigger than myself and contribute to a cause that welcomed my efforts.
“I’ve come back this year because I want to help support leadership growth for other students,” she said.
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