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Spring Break with a Purpose

Alternative Service Breaks trips foster community on and off campus


For many, spring break is a chance to hit the ski slopes or the beach or indulge in the comforts of home. But for the approximately 250 Terriers participating in this year’s Alternative Service Breaks (ASB) program, next week offers an opportunity to participate in service projects that benefit social justice and environmental causes across the country.

Founded in 1988, the program is overseen by BU’s Community Service Center.

This year, students will travel to 21 ASB sites, working with nonprofit organizations on issues such as rural and urban development, environmental conservation, animal welfare, access to affordable housing, public health, education, disaster relief, and more. While many of the sites are on the East Coast, participants will travel to far-flung locations as well, among them California, Utah, Iowa, Michigan, Virginia, Louisiana, Tennessee, Georgia, and Puerto Rico.

Students select a trip based on their personal or academic passions. Trips cost between $390 and $1,000, depending on distance and transportation, and include meals and housing for the week.

While undergraduate volunteers and coordinators make up the core of ASB teams, staff and graduate students also volunteer as chaperones and work alongside them.

Program managers seniors Kristal Castro (COM) and Nikita Varman (Sargent) say ASB doesn’t benefit just the communities served. The trips empower volunteers through personal growth, leadership, and genuine human connection, while prioritizing community partnerships to more deeply understand the world and inspire empathy.

“ASB transcends geographical and personal borders,” Castro and Varman say.

This year, ASB is launching three new trips, each with a different mission. In San Francisco, ASB collaborates with two local organizations whose aim is to empower vulnerable communities: La Casa de Las Madres, a women’s shelter for survivors of domestic violence, and Seven Teepees, a program providing educational and support services to under-resourced youth. In Asheville, N.C., students will team up with Conserving Carolina, a nonprofit devoted to natural preservation through wildlife habitat restoration. Volunteers will help build trails, eradicate invasive plant species, or clean and remove litter from the Upper French Broad River to improve access to fresh waterways. And in Detroit, ASB will partner with Alternatives for Girls (AFG), a nonprofit serving young women at risk. Originally a volunteer-run program with five emergency beds in a neighborhood church, AFG today employs 50 staff committed to empowering marginalized women and protecting them from abuse and human trafficking. AFG provides shelter, outreach, and a crisis resource center.

While many of this year’s ASB students are new to the program, others are veterans. Senior Ashley Welch (Sargent), who is also earning a master’s at BU’s School of Public Health, has been a volunteer and coordinator since 2016, at sites in Puerto Rico, Arizona, and Illinois. “Human connection is something I value more than anything,” says Welch, who this year is coordinator of the San Francisco trip. While working and living so closely with the same group of people for a week can sometimes be hard, she says, the experience breaks down barriers and forges great friendships.

Junior Donovan Shipley (Sargent) is another ASB veteran. He says the program has given him the opportunity to deliver on his parents’ advice: “Do something constructive.” This year Shipley heads west to Des Moines, where he’ll volunteer with Iowa Homeless Youth Centers, painting interiors and helping to create a rooftop garden.

Junior Anthony Dongfack (CAS), who is also volunteering on the Des Moines trip, says ASB offers a “beautiful mix of travel and community service, without the pitfalls of voluntourism.”

Shipley convinced Dongfack, who started the BU student group Swipes for Boston, which delivers food to homeless people around the city, to join him on an ASB trip to Mississippi two years ago. The two found the experience so rewarding that they have volunteered for the trips each year since.

“I’m willing to sacrifice beach time for the opportunity to make someone’s life a little better, even if it’s for a moment,” Shipley says.

Graduate student Geoffrey Line (COM) can be reached at gline@bu.edu.


One Comment on Spring Break with a Purpose

  • Jim in New Orleans on 03.09.2019 at 10:57 am

    These trips make such a huge difference for all involved. For the volunteers, they go outside their comfort zones and discover a different culture and forge bonds with folks far away, some of which can last a lifetime. It also enlightens them as to the issues involved with their particular service. For the communities, speaking for myself, I find it truly impacting that a group of student will render their Spring Break to give of themselves to communities far away from BU for the most part. Their time in these communities, while relatively brief, makes an impact that often can’t be seen, but stays in the hearts of those in the communities they visit. Blessings to all who make these trips……..especially the New Orleans group who is traveling 1600 miles to get to us even as I am writing this.

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