Alternative Spring Break focuses on poverty issues

(Source: Lola Moli) Students participate in Alternative Spring Break in Las Vegas by doing service.
(Source: Lola Moli) Students participate in Alternative Spring Break in Las Vegas by doing service.

Alternative Spring Break is a student-directed program that provides Weber State University students an opportunity to be involved in a weeklong service project over spring break. Each year a group of about 30 students volunteer to focus on issues such as hunger, poverty, disaster relief and social inequality.

“We go to a different place every year and have different focuses,” said Heather Gray, Alternative Spring Break chair. “This year is poverty. Last year we went to San Francisco, focusing on social stereotypes. The year before that was immigration.”

This year the group went to Las Vegas to focus on poverty. The students worked with many nonprofit organizations, including Three Square Food Bank, Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada, Whitney Elementary School, Las Vegas Rescue Missions and Habitat for Humanity, to help relieve poverty and hunger, and make an impact on the youth of the city.

“There was so much potential for good to be done,” said Paige Burrows, an elementary education major. “It was impressive that these people were trying to make a difference by helping people in their community.”

Each day the group provided community service to a different organization and gained hands-on experience in a variety of projects. They helped build a home for a family by painting and installing electrical wiring and doorknobs.

The volunteers also worked to inspire children, giving them someone to connect with by helping them with their homework and playing games with them.

“Everyone on this trip would probably agree that we just felt tons of love for the kids,” Burrows said. “We wanted to let them know how special they are and how much potential they have. I think that the biggest impact we had was donating our time to let these people know that we care about them and that we want to show them what they can have.”

The group also spent time working with more than one of the organizations to prepare and serve meals for homeless people and children.

“At the food bank we prepared those ready-to-eat meals for the students,” Gray said. “Then a couple days later, we were at an after-school program where the students were eating those meals and using those things that we helped prepare on a different side of town. It was pretty cool to see the connection between all of the nonprofit organizations within the city.”

Working with different organizations allowed the students to experience ways they can make a difference in their own community.

“It was awesome to see the WSU students get involved and to see the impact that it made on their lives,” Gray said. “It made me happy that so many of them were touched by the things that we’d done and their commitment to take those things back to Ogden to be more productive in their home life.”

The students came back from Las Vegas ready to get to work. Many of them are looking for ways to become involved in Utah to show they care about others and their community. Some said the Alternative Spring Break program opened their eyes to the possibilities.

“This was my first time being in Alternative Spring Break, and I definitely would say that it was probably the best $400 I’ve ever spent,” said Ranimae Jimenez, radiology major. “It really shows people how to be more engaged in community service.”

The program works to show students how they can impact people and the community around them.

“You get so many opportunities,” Burrows said. “You grow as a person, you grow as a group, and I would recommend it. It really is something you can take home. You feel inspired.”

Many student volunteers said they came home with a different perspective, having watched the way their work impacted people, changed their lives or inspired them.

“For me, I think the best part of Alternative Spring Break was changing my perspective on poverty,” Jimenez said. “A lot of times people believe that these people are worthless or unable to improve themselves, but one woman said that we inspired her to become a better person.”