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Some students use spring break to make a difference

March 19, 2024 By Seth Kruger
People are pictured on a construction site, holding tools.

Alternative spring breaks from UW often involve doing volunteer work for communities.

Next week during spring break, many college students will head to sunny beaches in Florida, California and elsewhere.

But that’s not for everyone. A group of UW–Madison students have found another meaningful way to spend their week off.

The Wisconsin Union Directorate’s Alternative Breaks Committee provides service-based spring break trips for students to sign up for and spend their week giving back to a selected community. The committee’s director, Aidan Stotz, is leading this year’s push toward service programming during spring break.

People fix up a sign in front of a building.

One alternative spring break trip for UW students was to Memphis, Tenn., to volunteer at Neighborhood Christian Centers.

The committee works hard to make sure that the opportunities for service breaks are available to any UW–Madison student based on individual passions and causes to work toward.

“If any student has a specific project they are passionate about, want to work on, and see changes in, we do our best to find them a pairing with an organization that also does that,” Aidan said.

After identifying a project and cause, the next step toward creating a worthwhile spring break trip is organizing the necessary resources and information in alignment with the students’ goals, the committee’s mission statement and goals, and a local on-site organization, with which Aidan leads the charge.

“It’s always an open conversation… we apply ourselves to any situation or justice issue we are passionate about. Then we can find an organization that has an opportunity to address [an issue] in some capacity,” he said.

One of the trips being run during this year’s spring break is a week with the Homeless Coalition of the Greater Cincinnati area, including meal preparation, youth mentoring, clothing and food pantries. Another group will head to the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee to protect wildlife, plant gardens and learn about local indigenous cultures.

Another group is heading to Memphis, Tennessee, to partner with a local community group, Serve901, and apply leadership skills to topics like environmental issues, youth education and economic development.

Once students are on-site — whether it be in the woods of Tennessee or downtown Cincinnati — the hard work of planning the trip in alignment with all of the desired goals comes to fruition for the students to participate in, and more importantly, to enjoy.

“It’s an overwhelmingly positive experience for everyone. Not only is it cool to volunteer, but you build a community on the trip because you’re traveling with these people,” Aidan said. “Students always have a lot of fun and a lot of friendships come out of the trips. It’s great to see [the trip] translate into people who are passionate about the committee and come back for more,” he added.

Another important goal of every trip is making a difference in each student’s life just as much as they make a difference in the community. Aidan and his committee place a heavy emphasis on reflection activities throughout the trip to recognize the intentionality of their efforts.

“There’s a lot more you can get out of a volunteer experience if you reflect on it. So we make sure to take a step back [during a trip] and ask ourselves, ‘What are we doing right now?’” Aidan said. “As the director, I get to create these moments for [everyone] to grow as leaders and as people,” he added.=

So, as spring break comes and goes this year, Aidan and his committee hope to continue their outreach to the UW–Madison campus and make their trips known as viable, valuable, and important alternatives.

“We are always growing our committee. Our meetings are open-door, and all of our events can be found on our social media,” Aidan said.