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A closer look at alternative spring break

With freshmen successfully navigating their way to classes, workloads piling up and temperatures dropping, students are fueling up on their favorite coffees and taking shelter in the Albin O. Kuhn Library, colloquially known as AOK. However, academics aren’t the only thing picking up the pace at UMBC.

Next time you’re headed up to Upper Flat Tuesdays, check out the Student Org space, specifically Student Life’s Office of Service and Volunteerism. In room 2B24, you’ll find Becky Morrison and Rachel McCauley, a.k.a. the ladies responsible for organizing all the Welcome Week service projects, blood drives and awareness events that take place on campus.

Another little known program they help run is Alternative Spring Break. ASB is a week-long event that, you guessed it, takes place during UMBC’s spring break. ASB empowers current UMBC students to combat civic issues surrounding their local communities through immersive service and reflection, in hopes to evoke a sense of compassion and empathy for all peoples of the world.

Three of this year’s trips plan to tackle stigmas surrounding those who are homeless, have inadequate access to health care and individuals with disabilities. The other two trips offered look into alternative forms of medical care and animal welfare. With the majority of the trips taking place in the Baltimore Metropolitan Area, students see firsthand how relevant these issues are to the communities surrounding UMBC.

One of the things that makes ASB unique is that it is 100 percent student run. Student leaders organize, budget and communicate with their trip participants and service sites. Although not a requirement, many ASB leaders have already participated on previous trips. Let’s take senior health administration and policy program major and Phi Mu sister, Vanessa Hall, for example.

Hall started serving her community once admitted to UMBC, she stated, “It would be a fun way to give back to the community and get to know people.” Prior to leading the 2016 public health trip, she participated on the 2015 homelessness trip, on which she volunteered at Paul’s Place in Baltimore.

While there, Hall bonded not only with her group but also connected with many children at the center. During an interview, Hall shares one of the many ASB memories she had taken with her.

“It was the last day at Paul’s Place with the homelessness trip and I already had this crew of six or seven year olds that loved making puzzles with me,” Hall said. “The girls were finishing their side and couldn’t find a specific piece. I spent such a long time looking for it and was just really enjoying working with the children. Then we all had to clean up, but I still hadn’t found the piece. The kids asked if I was coming back the next day and I wanted to say yes, but I couldn’t. At the end of the day I said bye to them and asked the program coordinator how to get involved in their mentoring program. A month later and I’m back there mentoring. I wouldn’t change it for anything. I really had fun working with the children.”

Experiences like these motivated Hall to lead the public health trip the following year, hoping to create the same atmosphere for those looking to get involved in service.

As a veteran of the ASB program, Hall defines it as, “More than just service. It is a fun experience where you get to develop not only your community, but yourself. I learned a lot about what I was passionate about through ASB.”

On her trip, Hall and her group learned about the state of healthcare in Maryland, social and environmental factors that affect health and health disparity, all while reflecting on their own privileges and how to change Maryland’s public health policies.

Hall plans to continue her service in the public health sector as a future Health Outreach Specialist through the Peace Corps, something that is “much longer and in a very different setting,” but something she is excited for nonetheless.

For all those future ASB leaders, Hall shares some simple advice. Reminiscing, Hall states that, “The hardest part [of organizing the trip] was definitely time management and the trip packet was probably the most daunting part of it.”

Despite the inevitable challenges that come with becoming a leader, Hall encourages future leaders to remain patient and to simply, “Have fun! Get to know your fellow trip leaders and really bond with them over the planning process. Service should be fun and interesting. The experience is definitely what you make of it!”

And for all of you asking why you should choose to spend your spring break serving, Hall ensures that, “ASB is amazing. You not only get to do service for a week, but you get to form friendships with the trip coordinator, leaders, fellow participants, people at your service site(s) and so much more. It is truly a wonderful experience and it’ll definitely inspire you to continue with service.” Participant applications will open mid-October.