May 21, 2018

May 21, 2018


Volunteers to Do Good Deeds Across Country During Spring Break

UT Dallas Alternative Spring Break

Students from the University of North Texas joined in community service with UT Dallas students at the Galveston Bay Foundation in Galveston during last year’s Alternative Spring Break.

For some UT Dallas students, spring break is more than just binge-watching the latest season of their favorite cable television series.

Instead, nearly 100 students will be investing in a week of community service projects with nonprofit agencies in 10 locations, from Texas to California.

The Alternative Spring Break program, now in its 20th year at UT Dallas, also helps students develop leadership skills and learn about current social issues, said Monalisa Amidar, assistant director of the UT Dallas Office of Student Volunteerism.

“This is one of my favorite programs because it’s the basis of our office,” Amidar said. “It combines service, leadership and education. Plus, our students get to see and experience other parts of the U.S.”

Each trip is designed around a particular social issue, such as affordable housing, sustainability and environmental conservation. Students study these issues in small groups for months and research the services their agencies offer, so they’re well-prepared when they arrive on site.

The program is so popular that most trips fill up as soon as they’re posted online in the fall. “I’m still getting emails from students who want to sign up,” Amidar said.

UT Dallas Alternative Spring Break

UT Dallas students (from left) Valeria Quinones, Sophia Liu, Vivi Zhao and Carol Tang help with a community garden affiliated with the San Antonio Food Bank.

ASB participants include staff and faculty team advisors, and the experience is so meaningful that many return year after year to take on another service trip. Given the high rate of returnees, OSV staff members try to add a few new community partners each year.

For instance, with immigration an ongoing issue in the news, students requested a related project this year. So the OSV organized its first trip to help youth refugee populations in the border city of McAllen. Participants will sort donations, serve meals and help with basic renovation and home construction for families in need.

Another new site location this year is the Atlanta Center for Self Sufficiency, where the Hunger and Homelessness team will learn about urban poverty and homelessness, and help nonprofit agencies by serving meals, sorting and organizing donations, and performing basic facilities maintenance.

“Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed has made homelessness in the city one of his main focuses, so our students will be studying how the local government collaborates with nonprofits on solving pressing community needs,” Amidar said. “It’s exciting to show UT Dallas students these citywide efforts.”

Working on such projects changes students’ outlook on social issues. When ASB teams meet beginning in January, students not only coordinate trip logistics, but they also discuss their social issue and set service goals. 

UT Dallas Alternative Spring Break

Ana Martinez (left) and Chixing “Sam” Liu helped plant 177 trees at Sequoyah State Park in Oklahoma last spring break.

Participants are taking such ownership of their homelessness service project this year that they are opting to try living at or below the poverty level to be immersed in the experience, Amidar said. The teams stay at free or low-cost, simple lodging during the week.

ASB participants also make an impact on campus when they return.

Caitlynn Fortner was a member of last year’s sustainability team, working on a World Hunger Relief farm in Elm Mott, Texas, where the team planted, harvested and cooked their own food, and cared for livestock.

Back on campus, Fortner helped create the UT Dallas Sustainability Club and also started a “move-out collection” effort with support from Residential Life, the Sustainability Office and the OSV. During move-out last year, students dropped off books, clothing, recyclables, electronics and food they no longer needed before they left campus for the summer. Fortner and members of the Sustainability Club then helped sort and donate 100 boxes full of these items, which otherwise would have ended up in the trash.

“Most of us on the trip realized that we’re very blessed with the things we have, including food. We realized that the things we take for granted also generate a lot of waste,” said Fortner, an international political economy sophomore.

Other new ASB sites this year include:

  • Petaluma Bounty, an organization outside of San Francisco that is working to create solutions to community food system problems. ASB Sustainability team participants will learn sustainable agricultural practices as they help the agency with farm labor, landscaping, grounds maintenance and community outreach.
  • Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, which cares for more than 100 exotic cats. The ASB Animal Services team will tackle projects that currently take time from the agency’s primary staff, including painting, grounds maintenance, construction and cleanup.

Media Contact: Robin Russell, UT Dallas, (972) 883-4431, [email protected]
or the Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].

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