Alternative Spring Break combines vacation, volunteering

The program sends students on service trips across the country.

With spring break less than a month away, eager MU students are planning skiing excursions, trips to the beach and visits to family and friends. Those who have chosen to participate in Alternative Spring Break are using their vacations to give back to society.

ASB is an organization that allows college students to volunteer all over the country for the week of spring break. According to the ASB Web Site, about 12 students comprise a group. Before students know where they are going, they rank their top choices of the tasks they would like to be in charge of while on the trip. The site leaders and executives then place the students on the trips where their service will be the most beneficial.

Primarily the university, but also fundraisers and the $200 each student participant pays, pay for the trip.

In the past, HIV/AIDS, cancer, physical and mental disabilities, environmental degradation, education and poverty have been issues on which ASB students have focused their philanthropy. Some of the locations have included Jacksonville, Fla.; South Padre, Texas; New York; Philadelphia; Boston and Slick Rock, Colo.

"The main obstacles for Alternative Spring Break participants and site leaders are budgeting and financing their trips," ASB Treasurer Seth McIntire said.

As soon as site leaders are picked, the planning begins. This year, ASB offered site leader training through Break Away, a national organization that supports the development of alternative break programs. Site leaders learned about fundraising, budgeting, expense logs, team building exercises, leadership development and diversity.

"Being involved in this organization has taught me multiple lessons over the years and has humbled me beyond belief," ASB President Elizabeth Augustine said. "Now, as president, I'm thrilled to watch as our organization expands and our projects diversify, and I'm ecstatic to see all the new faces ready and willing to help our world."

Students do volunteer work with various non-profits in their specific areas. The trips are typically based on a certain issue.

Augustine first got involved with ASB during her freshman year, when she went to Key West, Fla., for an environmental trip.

"Going on Alternative Spring Break is definitely an eye-opening experience," Augustine said. "It's one where you meet tons of new people, learn about a ton of different lifestyles and step outside of your comfort zone multiple times. Students will walk away with a new perspective on life, without a doubt."

Although there is a lot of work, the students do get breaks.

"ASB is the best way I've ever spent a spring break," ASB participant Amanda Fleming said. "After a week of meaningful work, we felt like we had really earned our day off in the French Quarter (in New Orleans). During the week we still had fun at local festivals and pick-up ball games with other Alternative Spring Breakers from universities around the country."

This year, there are eight trips: Eagle Butte, S.D., to work on an Native American reservation; Atlanta, helping homeless and poverty-stricken families; Birmingham, Ala., working with victims of HIV/AIDS; Twin Cities, Minn., helping struggling women and children; Dallas, working with people who are homeless; Slick Rock, Colo., helping with mustangs and their habitats; Maryville, Wis., helping with the largest freshwater cattail marsh and New Orleans, to work with victims of Hurricane Katrina.

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