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Alternative Spring Break Is Taking Off

Service program adds flying trips, online registration

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2009 Alternative Spring Break volunteers build a roof over a wheelchair ramp at a church in Cranks, Ky. Photo by Vicky Waltz

For the first time in its 23-year history, Boston University’s Alternative Spring Break (ASB) program is trading rubber wheels for airplane wings. This spring, volunteers will fly to 4 of the organization’s 35 service trip destinations.

“We wanted to expand to the West Coast and Puerto Rico,” says program manager Ariana Sherman (CAS’10), “and the only way to do that was by flying.”

In Seattle, students will work with Habitat for Humanity, one of the world’s largest nonprofit housing organizations, and in San Juan, P.R., they will volunteer at the nonprofit Iniciativa Comunitaria and contribute in areas of homelessness, HIV/AIDS awareness, and youth sexual education.

“Our main concern over Puerto Rico was safety,” says Zhandra Ferreira-Cesar (CAS’10), the ASB other program manager. “We spent a lot of time researching organizations in that area, and Iniciativa Comunitaria was very responsive to us. We also liked that so many of its sponsors are major U.S. health-care corporations.”

Ferreira-Cesar says that while both Puerto Rico trip coordinators, as well as the chaperone, are fluent in Spanish, fluency is not required for volunteers, adding that a general knowledge of the language is encouraged.

Organized by BU’s Community Service Center, ASB attracts hundreds of student volunteers and staff chaperones, who spend their spring break week in March working in disaster zones and troubled communities across the country. Destinations range from the country’s largest cities to the most remote of Appalachian villages, and the lineup includes a little bit of everything, from working with GLBT teens in Detroit and maintaining trails on Georgia’s Cumberland Island to caring for homeless animals in New Orleans and tutoring abused and neglected children in Natchez, Miss. Last spring, 416 volunteers traveled to 21 states and clocked in nearly 16,640 hours of service.

The two program managers spent the better part of the summer poring over trip evaluations from previous years to determine the destinations of the two other flying trips. Because of an “overwhelming response” to trips involving children, they added the San Francisco–based Girls, Inc., where volunteers will help with activities designed to inspire and empower girls, and the Peaceable Kingdom Retreat for Children, in Killeen, Tex., where they’ll work with chronically ill children at an outdoor education camp.

An ASB destination for many years, the Killeen trip was eliminated in 2009 because the 30-hour drive cut into time at the destination. Both Sherman and Ferreira-Cesar took that trip their freshman year and say they were pleased to be able to bring it back. “Killeen was such an incredible experience,” Sherman says. “It was our introduction to ASB, and we were heartbroken when it was canceled.”

Another major change made this year by Sherman and Ferreira-Cesar is moving registration online. That means that ASB volunteers will no longer have to camp out overnight at the George Sherman Union to guarantee a spot; they need only log on to the ASB Web site on Sunday, January 31, at 8 a.m. The process works similarly to reserving tickets on Ticketmaster; students have five minutes to enter their contact information and rank their trip preferences, which are awarded on a first-come, first-served basis.

“Diehard ASB fans may be initially disappointed that we moved registration online,” Ferreira-Cesar says. “But we received a lot of critical feedback over the registration process, and quite honestly, having students wait in line for 18 hours is a liability issue.”

Online registration also allows volunteers to pay by credit and debit card. Van trips cost $325, and flying trips $675. Students who can’t afford the registration fee may be eligible for full or partial scholarships.

Another change: because ASB will be using 12-passenger vans this year (deemed safer than the 15-passenger vans used in the past) each trip will consist of 10 volunteers, down from the 12 of previous years.

Registration for Alternative Spring Break will take place on Sunday, January 31, at 8 a.m. For updates, visit the ASB blog or call the Community Service Center at 617-353-4710.

Vicky Waltz can be reached at vwaltz@bu.edu.

3 Comments

3 Comments on Alternative Spring Break Is Taking Off

  • Allison on 01.26.2010 at 1:23 pm

    Online registration? This saddens me. I always thought staying up late into the night showed a commitment to service instead of a last-minute spring break decision. Though it was cold, it was fun, and it was a way to bond with others who were also willing to give the time. Sure you had to show up early, but that was each person’s choice – if you truly wanted a spot on a popular trip, you loaded up your sleeping bags and snacks and got ready to wait.

  • Allison on 01.26.2010 at 1:27 pm

    Oh no! In reading the CPC blog, I’ve also come across this dismaying fact:

    You can register 1 friend to go on the same trip with you! There will be a section where you can add an additional BU ID and name.

    ASB is about meeting new people who also care about community service. In some cases, I’m sure this scenario works out fine… two friends care about the same issues, and are interested in the same trips. In most cases I’ve seen, however, the two spend the trip sharing inside jokes and not bonding strongly with the remaining group members. Sometimes, it’s obvious that one of the two didn’t really want to come, and wouldn’t have even put in the effort if his or her buddy hadn’t forced it. Why this change, CSC?

  • Anonymous on 02.23.2010 at 10:10 am

    Well done, ASB!

    Well done, ASB on making new and innovative changes to the program. As a former CSC/ASB’er, I have fond memories of the program and am pleased to see that it is growing and thriving.

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