EUGENE, OR -- While many college students view spring break as a chance to kick back and relax, dozens of University of Oregon students are using the week to learn and lend a hand.
The UO's Alternative Break program facilitates immersion-based experiences to give students first-hand accounts of civic service, social change and cultural understanding. Started at the UO in 2007 by a group of university students, the program has doubled in size every year with a total of 126 students on eight trips this spring break in the Northwest, West Coast, Louisiana and the developing world.
The program is coordinated by the UO's Service Learning Program, a partnership between the Holden Leadership Center and the College of Education's Family and Human Services department.
"Student interest is very high and for many students who aren't able to study abroad for longer periods of time this is an opportunity to gain meaningful life experiences during a break in the academic schedule," said Morgan St. Jean, Service Learning Program coordinator.
To participate, students must apply and are responsible for the costs associated with the trip. Once selected, participants are responsible for a pre-trip curriculum of meetings, and education about the social issues and locations they will explore.
This year marks the first time Alternative Breaks will travel internationally. A group of 19 UO students will travel to the Dominican Republic and work with Orphanage Outreach, an aid organization, to examine the issue of youth and public health education. The team will provide daily public health education in local schools and rural communities, covering topics such as nutrition and hygiene.
In Jamaica, 19 students will explore the country's juxtaposition of tourism against stark poverty. Students will teach and participate in hands-on repair work with local school and youth programs.
"Preparing students as citizens of the world is an important responsibility and the best lessons need to be experienced firsthand," said John Duncan, director of the Holden Leadership Center. "As we looked beyond the U.S., the issues in the Dominican Republic and Jamaica were good fits for our aspirations to expand the service learning opportunities."
Next winter marks the inaugural extended Alternative Winter Break to India.
Beyond the West Coast for the first time, a group of 18 UO students will visit New Orleans to work on projects including building and repairs in the Lower 9th Ward and mentoring youth affected by natural disasters.
Closer to home, a dozen UO students will focus on rural poverty in Oregon, specifically related to Native American rights and sovereignty. Centered in Chiloquin and surrounding areas, the students, in partnership with the Klamath Tribes, will volunteer for youth services, food banks and other non-profit organizations to learn directly from community members and non-profit workers about the issues they face.
Setting institutional rivalry aside, 11 UO students and four Oregon State University students will explore sustainability and energy conservation in Portland, Yakima and Seattle. The group will volunteer at a sustainable farm, recycling center, food bank and soup kitchen, as well as improve trails and visit the Hanford Nuclear Waste site.
Three groups are heading to California to repeat previous projects. In San Diego, a group of students will assist Border Angels, a nonprofit dedicated to human rights; and Casa Familiar, a widely recognized authority on the challenges of border communities. In South Central Los Angeles, a group of 16 will mentor children and teens at after-school programs and youth centers. They will also engage with city officials, non-profits, and community members about addressing issues around education and at-risk youth on a larger scale.
In San Francisco, students will be in the heart of the Tenderloin District, the 60-block area with the highest concentration in the city for individuals who are homeless or living in poverty. The UO group will assist service organizations including Project Open Hands, Glide and Compass, to do volunteer work to help impoverished and homeless communities in the area.