Spring break for many college students means heading home to unwind, jetting off on adventures or flocking south in search of warmer beaches.
But dozens of students from local colleges are bypassing that traditional experience this week to volunteer during their time off. Alternative spring break programs draw students who want to help make a difference and meet new people from their school.
Western Oregon University is sending 32 students on student-led trips throughout the region.
Students in Chemeketa Community College’s International Community Development in Action class will spend their break in Nicaragua putting what they worked on this semester into action — working to improve the health of an impoverished community.
Students from Willamette University will learn about social justice with a global perspective by serving with international students.
Student leaders interviewed from each school agreed that not only do they make an impact in the communities they serve, but students come back from the trip with a better understanding of the world and of themselves.
Western Oregon University
Western’s Alternative Break trips are completely student-led. Students do all the research on their topics, plan and budget. Staff advisers are there to drive vans and in case there’s an emergency, said Charisse Laughery, service learning coordinator at Western.
The trips are all within 10 hours of the university, which is the region most of their students come from, Laughery said.
This year, students will be spreading out to Portland, San Francisco, Reno, Nevada, and Vancouver, British Columbia, to work in food banks, Habitat for Humanity and The Salvation Army, among other nonprofits, Laughery said. Western also offers international service learning trips during winter and summer breaks.
“There are a lot of issues here — not just in Oregon — that we need to fix,” said Jovany Romero, a junior who will be co-leading the trip to Reno.
Students meet for 10 weeks beforehand to explore all sides of the issues they’ll be encountering, including stereotypes. During the trip, they have reflections to help them relate their service to what they want to do with their lives.
Senior Maria Vargas said the trips taught her she wants to travel and help communities in Latin America by starting her own nonprofit. Vargas has been on five trips, leading most of them.
“I’ve grown as a person,” she said. “I’ve discovered who I am and what my passions are.”
by Kaellen Hessel