The University Record, February 11, 2002

Alternative spring break offered for 13th year

By Laurel Thomas Gnagey

Some 320 U-M students will trade beach towels and the chance to sleep in over spring break for public service at more than 30 locations across the nation. The Alternative Spring Break (ASB) program offers students and interested faculty or staff members the chance to perform community service right here in Michigan or as far away as Florida and Texas.

Participants can work with homeless shelters, schools, community centers, community-based health care centers and more. They will assist refugees, Native Americans, persons living with HIV/AIDS, farm workers, older adults and children. Over the course of the week, some students will tutor children, build homes, deliver meals and facilitate educational programs in schools.

ASB has been a part of the University’s Project SERVE program since 1990, when 15 students helped with two Habitat for Humanity programs in Michigan. Over the years it has grown dramatically and is the largest ASB event in the nation, according to Mary Beth Damm, associate director of the Ginsberg Center for Community Service Learning. She says although the number students going this February from U-M is about the same as last year, shehas observed an increase in the number of other colleges and universities, and other community groups, that have caught on to ASB. Area churches and other student organizations sponsor an additional 5–7 trips every year.

Participants come from all across the University, including LS&A, engineering, public health, SNRE, education and social work. In past years, staff members also have participated. The trips are open to any staff, faculty or student at U-M. And while warmer climates are on the list of places to go, Damm says location is not the priority. “Students don’t pick where they want to go, they pick an issue they want to work on,” she says. Issues include HIV/AIDS, border/refugee/immigration, environment, health and aging, youth and education, Native Americans, rural and urban poverty and domestic violence.

To prepare to serve in these areas, student site leaders participate in weekly education and training events. In turn, they work with the students going to their site to prepare them to participate. This includes book discussions, films, educational events on campus and research into the culture of the area or people with whom they will be working. ASB is a yearlong experience requiring students to commit to learning about themselves and others. Nightly reflection sessions take place during the trip, and students participate in a multi-site reflection to share their experiences and learn about trips taken by others.

Last year, the program did a comprehensive evaluation and found after their ASB experience, 98 percent of participants believed that “community-based experiences are important for a well-rounded education;” 99 percent gained a “better understanding of people different from them,” and 94 percent gained “awareness of their values and priorities in life.”

Students spend considerable time all year raising most of their own support. The trip last year cost about $120,000. Each student pays a $75 participation fee. Programs like LS&A, the Alumni Association, the Community Service Funding Board and some Residence Hall Associations together contribute roughly a third of the cost, but students raise the remainder of the money by cleaning the Crisler Arena after games, conducting bucket drives, bowl-a-thons and any number of events.

Information about ASB or other projects of the Ginsberg Center can be found at www.umich.edu/~mserve.