For Nick Toscano, spring break is no day at the beach. Instead of taking a vacation, the Suffolk University junior will travel to Denver, Colorado, to help build homes with Habitat for Humanity.

And senior Erin Bessette will volunteer through the University’s Alternative Spring Break program for the third consecutive year. She and fellow students will work with two local Boys and Girls Clubs and a food bank in Puerto Rico.

Learning through service

“I go on these trips because I learn a lot about myself and the place I’m serving, as well as getting to know other members of the Suffolk community,” says Bessette. “It’s another way to work towards lessening the inequalities we see in and around the U.S., and that type of work is of the utmost importance to me.”

Suffolk’s 13th annual Alternative Spring Break program, coordinated by the S.O.U.L.S. Center for Community Engagement, offers students an opportunity to perform meaningful service during the March respite.

“Alternative Spring Break is a great experience because it allows different groups of people to briefly intersect, with positive and lasting results,” says Toscano, who is returning for a second year as an Alternative Spring Break trip leader. “ASB has changed my life, … and we have changed the world.”

An eye-opener

Nancy Afonso, a junior, helped to build a home in Athens, Georgia, while a freshman. Now she is headed off to Meridian, Mississippi, to help provide a family she has never met with a place they can call home.

“It’s such a unique experience to be part of Alternative Spring Break,” says Afonso. “It really opens your eyes to how other people live and how these community service organizations give people opportunities that they otherwise wouldn’t have.”

Addressing social justice issues

This year teams of 12 students, accompanied by University staff members, will engage in work related to social justice issues, such as poverty relief, environmental conservation, LBGTQ advocacy and community development, in the following locations:

  • Atlanta 
  • Delaplane and Triangle, Virginia
  • Denver
  • Georgetown, Delaware
  • Gulfport and Meridian, Mississippi
  • Newland, North Carolina
  • Passadumkeag, Maine (Penobscot Indian Nation)
  • Philadelphia (two locations)
  • Puerto Rico

“What we hear back from students is that this is a life-changing experience for them,” says Carolina Garcia, director of the S.O.U.L.S. Center for Community Engagement. “They get to step into a whole new part of the country for a week, help to make a difference for people of all ages and from all walks of life, and learn about social justice issues.”

People power

Garcia, who will accompany the group heading to Puerto Rico, says that people at the food bank there are delighted that a group of Suffolk students will be assisting them.

“They have received many donations but haven’t been able to get them to the families in need because they don’t have the people power,” says Garcia. “With our help, they will be able to get supplies out next week.”

Follow along

While on their service trips, students will be sharing their experiences via social media. Their photos, videos, and tweets will be collected on our Alternative Spring Break Tumblr site, or you can follow along via Twitter and Instagram with the hashtag #suffolkasb.

Check back throughout the week for updates from the students, as well as additional photos and reports from Suffolk staff on site to document the experience.