More than 150 USC students, staff and faculty members took part in the Volunteer Center’s annual Alternative Spring Break program, a week of service, peer advocacy and team-building activities.
This year’s destinations included Appalachia, Baltimore, Death Valley, Guatemala, Honduras, Isla Mujeres, Navajo Nation, Orcas Island, Salinas and San Francisco.
Peter Byrnes, a senior majoring in creative writing, served as a student coordinator for the newly instituted Appalachia trip, where students focused on rural poverty.
“I took so much out of my trip last year and thought that becoming a student leader was just a natural progression,” said Byrnes, who traveled as a student participant to Orcas Island last year. “I wanted to give my peers the same opportunity to take a step back from their hectic lives to gain a deeper appreciation for others and for service.”
Byrnes and 12 peers worked primarily on housing rehabilitation and road construction during their tough but rewarding trip.
“These trips provide an opportunity where everybody can come together,” Byrnes said. “You are working with people that maybe you’ve seen before and maybe you haven’t, but by the end, you’re all friends. There’s just so much depth to these relationships because all of us chose to go on these Alternative Spring Break trips for similar reasons.”
For the second straight year, Faatima Seedat, a junior majoring in global science, worked as a coordinator for the Baltimore trip, where students volunteered their time in inner city hospitals and medical clinics. From interacting with patients to shadowing doctors to working with insurance claims, Seedat’s team got a taste of real-world experience.
“We all know that health care issues exist in this country, and you can sit in a USC classroom and learn about it,” Seedat said. “But until you get exposed to some of the health care issues we saw up close, you’re not getting the full picture. Even going back-to-back years, the trip was still eye-opening for me.”
Adrian Meza, a junior majoring in aerospace engineering, also returned to Isla Mujeres, where he spent his 2011 spring break.
“Education is a big interest of mine, and that’s what draws me to this trip so much,” said Meza, who served as a student coordinator for this year’s trip. “It’s not every day you get to work with kids like this.”
While each trip had its own service focus, the opportunity for cultural immersion was a thrill for most of the students.
“I enjoyed the trip from the perspective of a coordinator because it was a great lesson in rolling with the punches in an unfamiliar place,” Meza said. “Island life is so different from what it’s like to go to USC. People went at their own pace, cell phone service wasn’t great and sometimes our equipment wasn’t there when we got to a site, but that’s part of the experience. All in all, I couldn’t have asked for a better time.”
In addition to hosting domestic and international trips, the Volunteer Center also offers two winter break alternative programs that students can sign up for during the fall semester.
For more information, visit bitly.com/alternativespringbreak