In some parts of the U.S., “spring break” conjures up images of swim suit-clad college students enjoying warm weather and getting away from it all. More and more students, however, are trading in their swim suits for tool belts and finding that giving back during spring break is just as fun. They have discovered United Way’s Alternative Spring Break.
Since 2006, United Way has provided students with an opportunity to volunteer with others from all over the country during their spring break. Through unique collaborations between United Way and partners like Deloitte, MTV and Participant Media, over 2,500 students have participated in Alternative Spring Break (ASB) in dozens of communities across the country, contributing more than 77,000 hours of volunteer service.
From Biloxi, Mississippi – where Hurricane Katrina repairs are still needed – to the Jersey Shore, where the effects of Hurricane Sandy are still quite fresh, to Middle Tennessee, San Francisco and elsewhere, throughout March, students are giving back through ASB. Students could register with United Way of El Paso County to work with the Lower Valley Housing Corporation to help build homes for low-income El Paso, TX families. ASB volunteers with United Way in Northern New Jersey are working with children in a variety of youth development settings -- Boys & Girls Clubs, after-school programs and childcare centers in and around Newark.
United Way Silicon Valley is collaborating with Family Supportive Housing and San Jose State Tower Foundation’s CommUniverCity, to offer its first ASB this year. Student volunteers will be responsible for building garden beds for a shelter, which will use them to provide food for their kitchen as well as a way to educate the residents on how to grow and sustain a garden that is part of a healthy well-balanced diet. Learn more about the range of opportunities offered during week-long ASB programs offered throughout the month.
College students aren’t the only ones who can volunteer during their spring vacation; more and more travelers are opting to serve during their down time. “Voluntouring” can offer a way to immerse yourself more deeply in a local culture and return from your vacation reenergized in body and soul. Websites, such as GoVoluntouring.com and TransitionsAbroad.com, are set up for searching by region, country and program. Others, such as i-to-i.com and Volunteerabroad.com, allow you to specify the length of your trip and the type of volunteer work you’d like to do. Global Volunteers’ projects tend to be very hands-on, while Hands Up Holidays’ programs balance volunteer work with R&R.
Whether you are traveling solo, with your family or through United Way’s ASB, if you decide to take a volunteer vacation, plan to come back with more than a suntan and souvenirs. Volunteering changes lives; most often your own. And even if you are staying home during spring break, you can make a difference right around the corner from where you live. Contact your local United Way to learn how.