Alternative Break lets students learn, serve

For some students, spring break means a trip back home, or a road trip with friends, or just a chance to catch up on sleep and laundry.

<--break->But for a growing number of University of Oregon students, spring break means service.

The Alternate Break Program, part of of the Service-Learning Program at the Holden Leadership Center, is now in its third year at the UO.

“It’s a chance for students to go partake in a service learning experience,” said Emily Geis, volunteer program coordinator at the Holden Center.

The program has grown steadily. Three years ago, students could go on one of three domestic trips. Since then, the number of trips has grown, and students can also go during winter break.

This spring, more than 110 students from a variety of majors and backgrounds are going on one of seven trips: Honduras, Jamaica, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco and the Umatilla Indian Reservation near Pendleton, Ore.

Each trip focuses on a different social issue, such as poverty, disaster relief, youth or sustainability. Students typically spend time working with a local non-profit organization.

For example, in San Diego, students will delve into issues around the border and immigration. In Honduras, students will build safe, fuel-efficient stoves, working with a Eugene non-profit, Stove Team International.

Grace Burnham in Pondicherry, India.Grace Burnham, a senior studying non-profit management and public policy in the Department of Public Policy, Planning and Management, spent last spring break working with a at-risk youth in an after-school programs in Los Angeles. Then, last winter break, she traveled to Pondicherry, India, and worked on an organic farm.

“Honestly, it was one of the most amazing experiences I’ve had in my life,” said Burnham.

She stayed at an ashram, a spiritual center, and each day attended a lecture on Eastern ideology and leadership.

“Everyday, we had a session devoted to reflection, to talk about what you saw, what you learned” she said. “You make a bond with all these students in a way you typically don’t in college.”

Burnham said she did volunteer work in high school, but her first two years in college, she was wrapped up in studies and college life.

“I didn’t really know how to get connected,” she said. “I lost track and lost sight of how important service work is to me.”

Tim Christie