More than 100 students skipped the traditional mid-term R&R to lend a helping hand at eight Alternative Spring Break sites across the country, working on service projects ranging from building affordable housing to planting trees.

Suffolk’s Organization for Uplifting Lives through Service, or S.O.U.L.S., inaugurated the Alternative Spring Break program at Suffolk University in 1998, with 12 students performing service at one site. Six projects had been planned for spring 2011, but there was an overwhelming response, with 150 student applicants.

Expanding program

“The number of applicants was so high that the University administration agreed to fund eight projects, double the number we had last year,” said Carolina Garcia, director of the S.O.U.L.S. Community Service and Service Learning Center. “We also presented a challenge to students to raise funds for the trips."

Student fund-raisers had garnered $16,000 the week before the trip, with $6,000 of that amount donated by family and friends of the participants. Some of the proceeds will help fund travel and other expenses, and some will be donated to the program sponsors.

Students, student leaders and facilitators drawn from the University’s faculty and staff were involved in the following programs:

•An LGBT-themed service trip to Detroit partnered with Equality Michigan, with students volunteering at a shelter, helping to launch a Know Your Rights project, and working on legislative advocacy.
•Five groups built homes at Habitat for Humanity sites in Birmingham, Ala.; Denver, Colo.; Wichita Falls, Texas; Athens, Ga.; and Meridian, Miss.
•The environment was the focus of two projects in Virginia. Students planted thousands of trees in collaboration with the Nature Conservancy in Abingdon and worked on trail development, land improvement, and flower bed construction at Sky Meadows State Park in Delaplane.
Lina Rodriguez coordinated the program as S.O.U.L.S. Alternative Spring Break Scholar. She helped build a Habitat for Humanity townhouse in Denver last year as a freshman and worked on a Habitat project in Texas this year.

Energy and passion

Rodriguez is attracted to service because “I am one of those people who feel that we are responsible for those around us and that it’s important to give back. Now I’m encouraging other students to give back by organizing the Alternative Spring Break trips.”

Garcia was in Mississippi last year, creating housing for Hurricane Katrina refugees who relocated there and discussing the civil rights era with people who lived it. This year she headed to Denver with a student group.

“The energy and passion that the students bring to this work make a real impact on the communities they visit and on their own views as they learn about social justice issues,” she said.