UT Dallas Students Plan a Break from the Norm

Young Volunteers to Lend a Helping Hand During Alternative Spring Break

Mar. 9, 2011

A group of UT Dallas  students will forsake beaches, sun and frosty beverages next week and instead use their spring break to put ideas into action in volunteer projects around the country.

The Alternative Spring Break (ASB) students – 93 in all – chose from 11 trips that range from building houses with Habitat for Humanity to helping restore ecosystems and rescue animals.  They will serve nearly 40 nonprofit agencies at locations from Texas to New York during the week of March 14-19.

Alternative Spring Break

Students helped  last year with crop and livestock operations on the 209-acre Harvest Farms in Colorado.

The effort is designed to empower the students to transform their own communities long after the break ends, said Monalisa Amidar, assistant director of student life programs in the Office of Student Volunteerism at UT Dallas.

“From lodging and living conditions to the services the students will be providing, every trip is truly alternative,” said Amidar. “They will be staying in convents with nuns, living in a hut with no plumbing or farming the land. This is so much more than a volunteer opportunity. There’s a larger commitment. A higher level of leadership and training and time and energy is involved.”

The students have met weekly in preparation for their respective trips, and each group is teamed with a University adviser.  The students have also selected site leaders and assistant site leaders from among their peers and will meet after the trips to reflect on what they have learned. 

Student site leader Frederick Owusu will work with a group traveling to Wichita, Kan.

“I love volunteering, and I wanted to do something special my freshman year,” said Owusu, a chemistry major. “ASB is a great way to help others, and also learn about people from different backgrounds.”

The 11 trip advisers – a mix of faculty and staff from across the University – said they most look forward to watching the transformations among the students that participate in ASB trips. 

“The experience empowers students to lead in a community. It also gives them a greater sense of the impact they can have on a social issue, and I like being around to witness that mind shift.”

Julie Larsen,

“I enjoy the lightbulb moments,” said Julie Larsen, an adviser for an Immigration Services trip to El Paso and an academic adviser for the Emerging Media and Communication program in the School of Arts and Humanities. “The experience empowers students to lead in a community. It also gives them a greater sense of the impact they can have on a social issue, and I like being around to witness that mind shift.”

Amidar said the UT Dallas Alternative Spring Break program is modeled after the national organization Break Away and includes specific components such as education, training, reflection and diversity.  She said several of the groups will have the chance to meet with lawmakers during their trips.

“The Poverty and Politics group has been studying the causes and effects of poverty and has talked about the role that politics plays in addressing the issue,” she said. “During their stay in Austin, they will be assisting several nonprofit agencies, and the team will also tour the State Capitol and have the chance to meet with legislators.”

Jennifer Valdez, a student site leader on that trip, says that along with service, ASB places an emphasis on education.

“One of the most unique things about this trip is that the Texas Legislature will be in session at the time of our visit,” said Valdez, who is a freshman mathematical sciences major.  “One goal for us is to acquire better knowledge about poverty and how the issue is being addressed by the state Legislature. Becoming better educated on the issue will assist us as we decide what kinds of service projects will be most helpful to aid those in poverty.”

Alternative Spring Break

Alternative Spring Break is designed to empower students to transform communities.

Similarly, the Hunger and Homelessness team headed for Washington, D.C., plans to meet with the senior adviser for the secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Fred Karnas, as well as with U.S. Sen. John Cornyn’s adviser, Robin Millican, to discuss poverty issues.

Amidar feels the ASB experience will stay with students long after the break is over.

Each year, students come back from their ASB trip with new friends, fun memories, more knowledge and the motivation to, as Gandhi once said, ‘become the change [they] want to see in the world,’ Amidar said. “I hope our participants this year return not only with a fresh outlook on life, but also discover how they can positively contribute to change.”

Media Contact: Jenni Huffenberger, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2244, [email protected]
or the Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected]
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Alternative Spring Break

In 2010, UT Dallas students traveled to Harvest Farms, 70 miles north of Denver, where patients receive long-term treatment and learn the skills they need to break the cycles of poverty and addiction.


Alternative Spring Break

UT Dallas students on a trip to New York worked with Junior Achievement to teach elementary students about managing finances and help them explore career options.


Alternative Spring Break

In Perryville, Ark., students assisted with farm operations and worked with Heifer International on global poverty education programs.


UT Dallas Alternative
Spring Break Trips for 2011

Affordable Housing (Metro-Jackson, Miss.)
Students will work with Habitat for Humanity to renovate and repair homes.

Animal Rescue (Murchison, Texas)
Participants will care for animals and perform maintenance work at Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch.

Disaster Relief (Galveston, Texas)
A group will work with The One Mission to tackle repairs and construction on homes damaged by Hurricane Ike.

Ecosystem Restoration (Pensacola, Fla.)
Students will work with Community Collaborations to support ecosystem restoration projects.                     

Education (New York City)
With Junior Achievement of New York, collegians will teach elementary students financial literacy and discuss career paths.

Hunger and Homelessness (Washington, D.C.)
Participants will help the National Coalition for the Homeless support soup kitchens and homeless shelters.

Immigration Services (El Paso)
Volunteers will team with Annunciation House on outreach efforts geared toward immigrants, the homeless and the poor.  

Park Preservation (Hulbert, Okla.)
A group will provide cleanup, trail maintenance and restoration work at Sequoyah Bay State Park.

Poverty and Politics (Austin)
Participants will work with the Capital Area Food Bank of Texas and other groups to provide support services for the underserved in the Austin area.        

Social Services (Wichita, Kan.)
Students will collaborate with Dear Neighbor Ministries to conduct outreach for the elderly and for victims of domestic violence.

Sustainability (Elm Mott, Texas)
With World Hunger Relief, students will do farm work, repairs and maintenance.

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May 22, 2018