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The spring break that changed their lives forever

One week can change your life.

About 4,200 students can tell you how. For the past ten years every March, hundreds of college students have taken advantage of their spring break by rebuilding homes, supporting kids’ growth, improving food access, or otherwise impacting more than 11 communities around the US through Alternative Spring Break. These are their stories.

Giving Back in El Paso

Caleb Sloan didn’t know what he was getting himself into. He signed up for his first Alternative Spring Break (ASB) in Williamson County, Tennessee, hoping to do more with his spring break than just hang out. He didn’t realize the week would have such an impact on him.

"You leave a little bit different, a little bit changed."


Now about to embark on his third ASB, this time in El Paso, Texas, Caleb knows he’ll meet incredible volunteers from all over the country, delve into a fascinating community with unique culture and opportunities, and build his resume and leadership skills. In fact, this year the Western Kentucky University architectural science major will put his expertise to good use by building a house alongside the very family that will soon call it home.

But there’s another reason Caleb keeps going back.

“You think that you’re going to give back to the community in some way, but the people you’re around—the other volunteers and the people you’re helping—give back to you more than you could ever give back to them.”

Join us for ASB in El Paso

Work at the Yselta Lutheran Mission to help build homes for low-income El Paso families.

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Learning Confidence in DC

When Colleen Fonseca stands in front of a room filled with 200 strangers waiting for her to speak on behalf of her job, she taps into a memory.

“[ASB] was such a safe space. It felt like everyone was so welcoming and nice, so I was able to break out of my shell. That helped me realize, I can actually do this, be confident and be myself, even in a room of people I don’t know.”

Colleen said the 2015 ASB trip she went on in Washington, DC was a life-changer and a huge part of who she is today. The personal and professional development she gained was particularly outstanding. Now, in her job as Public Affairs Information Officer, the confidence she gained at ASB continues to drive her forward.

She feels a similar confidence in the power of students to impact the world.

“Young people have immense power in creating social change,” Colleen said. 

"If you're interested in social change and want to challenge the status quo, go on one of these trips."


Join us for ASB in Washington, D.C.

More than 1 in 4 children in the nation's capital live in poverty. Take your seat at the table to help take youth to the next level, including providing homework help and other mentoring support.

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Finding Hope on the Gulf Coast

On March 11, 2006, Lindsay Holder walked onto a yard filled with military-style tents and bent trees in Biloxi, Mississippi. It was base camp for United Way’s first ASB, created in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

When Hurricane Katrina hit, Lindsay’s house—an hour’s drive north of Biloxi—lost power for a month.

“I wanted to get the heck out of there,” Lindsay said.

Then she saw an ASB ad, applied, and spent a week helping Katrina survivor Mary Williams rebuild her house.

“I realized other people had it much worse,” Lindsay said. “Ms. Mary had been living in that FEMA trailer for years. She had to live in such tight conditions and still had a smile on her face. One of the most impactful moments was seeing her and knowing you can go through something and not have it change you.”

Ten years later, Lindsay is making a difference in her local community as a teacher and mentor. Oh, and she married someone she met on that first ASB. On March 11, 2016, they celebrate ten years together.

"Anytime you're given the opportunity to help, take it. There's always a need no matter where you are."


Join us for ASB in New Orleans

While New Orleans has rebuilt in many ways after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, an array of initiatives have developed not only to replace what was lost, but to build some of the supports that didn’t exist prior. Join us to help build urban gardens, work on youth development and environmental projects that help families keep more of their earnings while also reducing their carbon footprint.

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Check out some tips and stories from United Way ASB'ers.