While many Auburn students headed to the beach or went on a cruise, some dedicated their spring break to help others through service.
Alternative Student Breaks is a program for Auburn students to participate in different types of service during their break. These service projects can range from helping marine life in Juno Beach, Florida, to helping distribute ceramic water filters in the Dominican Republic.
Bree Spark, sophomore in animal science, was a site leader for the trip to Juno Beach where students volunteered at the Loggerhead Marinelife Center. This is her second year volunteering at Juno Beach and her first year as a site leader.
“The Loggerhead Marinelife Center is beautiful, and every volunteer there has an amazing passion for the ocean and sea turtle conservation,” said Spark. “My participants and I not only volunteered but were also educated on LMC’s mission and about marine life in general.”
During this trip, students helped make games and items for children from recycled items for the annual Turtle Fest. They also helped clean up litter from the beach, which was part of a research project. The participants worked together to mark each piece of litter and tallied how much of each type of litter they found during the time they cleaned up the beach.
Along with these projects, the students also helped paint the fishing pier in Juno Beach.
“I learned so much from this trip not only about marine life and ocean conservation, but also about important life skills including leadership, communication and work ethic,” Sparks said. “Every day I learned something new about myself, my participants and about the environment. To me, Alternative Student Break trips are very influential and rewarding.”
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In Boulder Creek, California, another group of students led by Marissa Dogan volunteered with the YMCA Camp Campbell.
Dogan, junior in biomedical sciences, was a participant her sophomore year and was the site leader for the Boulder Creek trip this year.
The participants served as cabin leaders for Camp Campbell’s Outdoor Science School Program. They lived in cabins all week with their fifth-grade campers and helped the on-staff naturalists with their field studies.
“We learned about the river systems, redwood forests as well as sustainability and gardening,” Dogan said. “The highlight of the week was a 3-mile hike up a mountain in the redwood forest with our group. We had a picnic atop the mountain.”
On their free day, the volunteers went to the boardwalk in Santa Cruz and rode one of the country’s oldest roller coasters. Dogan said it was an excellent way for her team to have fun and experience the local area that they were volunteering.
“We learned a lot about sustainable gardening and compost practices, as well as a lot about how our natural environment works," Dogan said. "I think the most important learning came from interacting with our campers and with one another. We learned how to effectively support each other, as well as how to work with our naturalists to ensure out campers had the best time.”
On the other side of the country, site leader Garrett Smith and his group volunteered with Asheville Greenworks in Asheville, North Carolina.
Smith, junior in marketing, has been a part of ASB since his freshman year. He went on his first trip during the winter of 2016, led a trip this spring and currently serves on the executive board.
The volunteers helped Asheville Greenworks by helping assemble greenhouses. The group also planted trees in low-income neighborhoods, cleaned up a nearby river, assisted in stream bank restoration and learned how to identify and tag trees in the area.
While cleaning the river, the team removed 185 pounds of trash.
“We learned a lot about sustainable practices that we can use in our everyday lives, such as composting and recycling, as well as using reusable items such as stainless steel straws, silverware and water bottles,” Smith said.
In the Dominican Republic, another group of Auburn students teamed up with Wine to Water to help make and distribute ceramic water filters during their spring break. This trip is the only international trip offered by Alternative Student Breaks.
Wine to Water is a clean water project in the Dominican Republic that distributes ceramic water filters to local communities and export them to surrounding countries. This project works in multiple other countries and makes sure that their projects are culturally appropriate for the area that they are working in.
“I think that it was really important for us to see that whenever you're going to a foreign country to do humanitarian work that you have to keep in mind the people you are trying to serve, and you have to learn and work alongside those people,” said Abigail Campbell, junior in biomedical sciences and the site leader for this project.
On the first and second day, the volunteers worked in the factory to learn how to make the ceramic water filters. The third day, the volunteers went to a school and helped teach them how to wash their hands properly. Later that day, the group passed out the water filters to 30 people in the area. On their final day, they performed a follow up with the people in the community who had received the water filters in the past. They interviewed the people on how the clean water impacted them and if the filter worked effectively.
“I think that we all learned a lot about the world water crisis, which I really didn’t know much about going into this trip,” Campbell said. “There was a water shortage in the community that we were staying in while we were there, so there was barely enough water for us to shower while we were there. There’s such a big clean-water shortage in that country right now, which was really devastating to see, but I also think that it was a cool, tangible thing for us to witness — for us to really put in perspective how important the work that Wine to Water is doing.”
Salma Raouf, sophomore in marketing, led her group in Memphis, Tennessee, as they worked with Serve901.
She explained that Serve901 is an organization that links civil rights with community advocacy. The participants volunteered at the Memphis Delta Preparatory spring break camp, Room in the Inn, Landmark Urban farms and the Ronald McDonald House at Memphis.
Every morning, the volunteers worked at Memphis Delta Preparatory where they tutored children from third to fifth grade in literacy and reading comprehension. When they were done for the day, they traveled to another site that varied each day.
One day, they volunteered at Room in the Inn, which provides an inclusive shelter and food for homeless people. Another day, the group volunteered at Landmark Urban Farms, which is an organization that provides fresh produce and other foods for families that do not have these resources readily available. Finally, the group volunteered at the Ronald McDonald House where they did arts and crafts with children.
“We learned how to service opportunities properly by first learning the history of the community, why it is the way it is and assessing if our help is wanted or needed,” Raouf said. “Learning the history of the community you serve in is 100 percent the first step in properly serving people who are different than you. We learned how to use our privilege to benefit others.”
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