Rather than spending spring break relaxing on the beach or vacationing in another country, each year more than 60 Allegheny College students choose to make a difference. These students donate their week off to go into communities and work on service projects across the nation.
Since 1994, Allegheny’s alternative spring break program has sent groups of students to locations as far north as Vermont, as far south as New Orleans and Florida, as far west as South Dakota and as close as Meadville.
Senior Levi Lundell has been on an alternative spring break trip each of his years at Allegheny and is participating again this year. “The bonds I made and the happiness we provide live in my memory, and you grow in your ability to experience different cultures,” he says.
The spring break trips take students into often unfamiliar areas to work with programs such as Habitat for Humanity, St. Jude’s and Vive La Casa. Many students return year after year, enjoying the opportunity to help out and see a different part of the country as well as connect with their fellow volunteers and the people they are helping.
Patrick Donathen is a senior who has gone to a Habitat for Humanity site in York, Pennsylvania, for the past three years.
“On my first alternative spring break, my trip had the opportunity to meet the soon-to-be homeowner of the property we were working on,” Donathen recalls. “The woman told us her background story and was so thankful for us helping her right her life. It was amazing to see the direct impact that my work would have on an individual and how my work helped change a person’s life.”
Allegheny prides itself on the amount of service work performed by students across campus, and the alternative spring break trips are another way to help. The trips offer a unique way for students to see the impact they can have in communities they likely wouldn’t have been exposed to otherwise.
Sophomore Nicholas Silva-Jara went on a different type of spring service trip last year, but it was one that also allowed him to see the immediate impact of his work. “We worked on the Cumberland Trail in Cumberland, Tennessee, so we were able to see a physical representation of the work we accomplished,” he says.
Silva-Jara is also a Bonner Scholar, which is what initially led him to the alternative spring break program, but many participants apply for the trips without being affiliated with a service organization. “It’s an amazing opportunity to travel to another part of the country, learn about that community’s issues and help solve them, all while bonding with your fellow classmates,” Donathen says. “By the end of the trip, you gain a lot of friends and feel a sense of accomplishment for helping those in need.”
Spring break 2017 will take groups of Allegheny students to Habitat for Humanity in York, REACH in Roanoke, Virginia, Reading Partners in Washington D.C., and Lake Effect in Erie County and Crawford County. The trip costs $125, including transportation and food, and scholarships were available for applicants. Students also get a day off for exploring.
Habitat for Humanity directs students in building houses for those in need and has operated since 1976. REACH is a program that approaches service as a way to teach others to embrace serving and community transformation. Reading Partners help students who are struggling with reading. And Lake Effect is for students to help with various nonprofit organizations relating to youth and housing rehabilitation in the area. This year, Lake Effect volunteers will be joining with the 4th Graders as Scientists group at Allegheny, volunteering on the Flagship Niagara in Erie, assisting with the Presque Isle beach cleanup, and working on a building project in Meadville.
“You leave a mark that means something and feel good about what you did, and then you’ll want to come back for more,” Lundell says. “I can’t think of anything I’d rather do during my spring break than to try new foods, meet new people, learn new skills and create memories to hold forever. And going out of your way to help when you don’t need to; it’s invigorating.”
Photo caption: Allegheny students take a break for a photo during an alternative spring break trip volunteering for Habitat for Humanity.