Alternate spring break changes lives

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Volunteering at Habitat for Humanity during an alternative spring break.

While many members of the UW Tacoma community kicked up their heels during spring break, some dedicated students, staff and faculty chose to spend their time on an alternative spring break.

In its second year at UW Tacoma, alternative spring break is coordinated by Volunteer Services in the Division of Student Affairs. This year’s group of volunteers spent a week in Sacramento, California, where they partnered with Habitat for Humanity and the Boys and Girls Club on community housing projects. The students got a chance to learn about themselves and their connection to the global community.

Student coordinator Amanda Vandel, a senior in environmental science, led 10 student volunteers, plus faculty advisor Diane Young, associate professor social work, and Nyeva Bembry, multicultural outreach coordinator from the Equity and Diversity Office.

The experience of leading the program has prompted Vandel to consider changing her plans to become a zookeeper. She’s now thinking of pursuing a career in the non-profit sector.

As the trip leader, Vandel had a slightly different experience than the other students. “I learned that things don’t always go as planned,” she said, “and you have to adjust and make the most of it.”

Raymond Luu, a first-year student, was drawn to the program because he had previously volunteered with a local Habitat for Humanity and had never traveled out of Washington. Luu said he was looking for an opportunity to come out of his shell.

“Helping other people is something I really enjoy. I don’t know how I can put it into words,” he said. “The whole trip has changed me as a person.”

Luu’s peers on the trip believe that he exceeded his own expectations. As observers of his transformation by the end of the week, they had fondly nicknamed him, “the chatterbox.”

The alternative spring break program is unique in that it partners all members of the UW Tacoma community, including students, staff and faculty, in an out-of-classroom setting. Faculty advisor Young was impressed with the caliber of dedication that the students gave to the experience.

“They wanted to work and serve others. It is why they went, and I saw this attitude acted out as they made decisions to dive in and work, or to find work when a task wasn't immediately at hand, even in the four inches of mud and the pouring rain!”

The group returned from the trip feeling a strong sense of connection to one another and with a stronger commitment to serve their community. Luu now wants to pursue becoming a student leader at UW Tacoma as a result of the trip.

He said, “It’s safe to say, this was a life changing experience.”

Slideshow of 2011 Alternate Spring Break Trip

Written by: 
Bridget Collier / April 25, 2011
Media contact: 

John Burkhardt, Associate Director of Communications, or 253-692-4536