Spring break. These two little words probably conjures up images of sunny beaches, skimpy bikinis and all-night booze fests in places like Cancun, Palm Springs and Fort Lauderdale.
But these days, many college students are just saying “no” to a wild and crazy week and instead are using this time to give something back to the wo/Users/production/Desktop/p9.spotlight.2.18.08.jpgrld. They’re volunteering during their vacation through a wide variety of alternative spring break programs, many sponsored by the colleges or universities they attend.
The University of Washington sponsors a Health Care Alternative Spring Break that sends students to work in rural and underserved medical clinics throughout the state. Southern Methodist University is sending teams of students to places like New Orleans, Taos, Denver, and the St. Mark’s National Wildlife Refuge in Florida to participate in community-enhancement and environmental programs. CSUN Hillel is organizing a trip to New Orleans to assist in rebuilding efforts in areas that are still struggling to recover from the effects of Hurricane Katrina.
Many of these school-sponsored alternatives required participants to submit applications months ago. There are, however, plenty of other options for an altruistic student who wants to get out there and make a difference.
The American Hiking Society has three Volunteer Vacations scheduled the week of Mar. 17 that are still looking for participants. How does trailblazing through Holliday Lake State Park in Virginia sound? Or perhaps something closer to home would fit the bill. There is a trails project just around the corner, at Vasquez Rocks County Park in Agua Dulce. The American Hiking organization website has more information.
If you have a passport, working in an orphanage in the Dominican Republic might be more your style. The accommodations may not be luxurious, but just think of the beaches! According to the Orphanage-Outreach.org website, participants will be immersed in the orphanage, spending time teaching English, tutoring and participating in fun activities with the children.
Volunteers for Peace has a searchable database on their website that turned up two open spots on a one-week trip to Japan to work in the forests of the Iwami Ginzann, a World Heritage site. Other trips beginning Mar. 15 are two weeks long, so if you’re able to miss a little school, they can hook you up to teach art to children in Thailand or English to children in India, or to paint classrooms in Nepal.
There are numerous travel agencies that specialize in creating trips that will match your interests with a unique volunteer opportunity. Of course, you’ll pay for the privilege. The traveler is usually responsible for arranging and paying for their own transportation. Lodging and meals are sometimes provided by the charitable organization, but sometimes they are not. Be sure you know all the details before you hand over a deposit check.
Speaking of details, make sure to thoroughly check out the organization and the specifics of the trip before you move forward. A fancy website won’t guarantee that they’re going to deliver on their promises. Make sure you don’t have unrealistic expectations either. If the program description says that they’re going to be clearing trails, prepare to get dirty, sweaty and sore. Accommodations can range from a hammock to a dorm room, while food could be as simple as rice and beans. Seek out past volunteers to learn about their experience with the group.
Don’t delay in making your plans! Spots for these trips fill up fast and as with all travel, your costs will be lower if you book in advance. Don’t forget also that you may need to get visas, immunizations or other paperwork depending on the location.