For students tired of sunbathing in Cancun, skiing in Colorado or partying in New Orleans over spring break, one campus organization can offer something different.
Alternative Breaks sends groups of seven students on one of 15 to 20 different volunteer trips every spring break. For Kansas University this school year, spring break is March 22-26, 2004.
"It's a cheap way to have a vacation," said Brian Thomas, communications director for the organization. "If you spend spring break on a long trip, it will cost hundreds of dollars."
Students on alternate breaks pay approximately $150 for the trip, which is supplemented by organizations such as Student Senate and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
Students who participate in the spring break trips start by applying at the Alternative Breaks office, Room 428 in the Kansas Union, or online at www.ku.edu/~albreaks. Funds limit the amount of people who can be accepted, Thomas said, but the group tries to take as many as possible.
Those accepted enroll in a night class one hour a week, which can be taken as credit or noncredit. The class prepares students for their individual excursions and builds skills such as conflict resolution, team-building and leadership qualities.
Trips take students across the country, doing a variety of volunteer tasks. Thomas said Habitat for Humanity and Teach for America were two national organizations that sent students to different sites every year. Teach for America sends college graduates to underprivileged schools to teach for two years. Alternative break volunteers spend a week acting as teacher's assistants. Thomas said a group usually goes to the Grand Canyon to help remove non-native plant species. Other opportunities provide work that would appeal to many different interests, Thomas said.
Most sites do not require prior experience and will provide training on site. Thomas said sites usually provided housing as well, through host homes or live-in facilities on location. Despite the hard work, students could gain huge benefits from the program.
"We don't lie to people," Thomas said. "There is a lot of work involved. But people who apply are generally up for it."
Thomas said both the class and the trip itself provided valuable lessons in conflict resolution and working with a group -- skills that would help students in future endeavors.
The trips also promote new friendships. Thomas said the organization avoided putting friends on the same trip because one of the main purposes is to get acquainted with new people.
"A lot of the trips have been the basis for long-term friendships," he said.
For those wishing to join the program at a different time, the group also offers Alternative Winter Breaks and Alternative Weekends. Because of weather and holidays, Thomas said, there was less demand for winter trips and the group only offered about 10 different locations for one week over winter break. Weekend trips occur about six times during the semester and take students on two-day trips to locations less than a three hours drive away.