More than 150 University of Colorado students have been dispatched throughout the country this weekend as they prepare to spend their spring breaks volunteering for projects that include Hurricane Sandy relief work in New Jersey, teaching kids about science and nature at a camp in California's redwoods and serving the homeless in Cincinnati.
CU's "Alternative Breaks" program has been around for a decade, according to Jen Ross, director of the Volunteer Resource Center. Next year, there will be a new, $20,000 scholarship pool -- funded by student government fees -- to help pay for students who want to go on the service trips but have a tough time coming up with the money.
The grants will be need- and merit-based, considering students' commitment to volunteering in the past.
The program -- which includes 10 different trips over spring break -- has become so popular that the center also offers trips in May. This year, students will volunteer in either Nicaragua, spending part of their time with an organization that cares for children who had been living on the streets, or in Chicago working for the Association House, which offers services such as career training and tutoring as well as mental health services.
"I think that students are beginning to understand -- or already do understand -- that by the act of giving back, they are feeding themselves," Ross said. "The access to worldly issues has increased for this generation through social media, and we attract a lot of student leaders who are committed to their world."
Last spring break, CU student Jonathan Hill spent a week in Kansas City, Kan., volunteering with an organization that cared for homeless toddlers, pre-schoolers and kindergartners. Hill said he and the other volunteers helped prepare meals and snacks for the children and played with them on the playground, as well as doing administrative tasks that gave an inside look at how nonprofit organizations run.
Hill said it was the first time he witnessed such extreme poverty and it was an eye-opening experience for him.
This year, as a trumpet player in the CU band, he could have traveled to Austin, Texas, to perform at the Buffs' NCAA tournament game. But he's opting instead to lead a service trip. His team will be doing volunteer labor in Moab, Utah, partnering with Plateau Restoration. The students will work on habitat restoration, weeding out non-invasive plants that threaten the native vegetation.
CU senior Tsion Zergaw will be a trip leader to San Francisco, where students will prepare and help serve meals to the homeless and poor through Glide Memorial Church and a local food bank.
Zergaw traveled to New York City for a similar trip last year, working for God's Love We Deliver, a charity that makes and delivers food to clients who are too sick to cook or shop for themselves. The organization was started in 1985. Back then, it was just one woman who delivered meals to a man who was dying of AIDS.
"Aside from the service aspect, I think there is an enormous educational impact," Zergaw said. "Being a college student, we're far removed from these types of situations. These are experiences we won't get sitting in the classroom."
Last year, Zergaw received a Casey Feldman Memorial Scholarship, which is a donor-funded grant that helps pay for students to go on alternative break trips. The scholarship is funded by Feldman's parents. Feldman in 2009 was living in New Jersey and was struck and killed by a distracted driver while she was walking to her summer waitressing job. Feldman volunteered at a soup kitchen, a women's shelter, an AIDS clinic and an animal shelter.
The Feldman scholarship funds about a half dozen trips a year.
Contact Camera Staff Writer Brittany Anas at 303-473-1132 or email@example.com.