Spring break is just weeks away at Salt Lake Community College.
From vacations to Netflix binges, SLCC students plan many different ways to unwind. But some students decide to pass on leisure activities and participate in Alternative Spring Break, a student-led service initiative held in four different cities, each with its own mission.
“The whole point of [Alternative] Breaks is to get students asking questions about root causes of important social issues,” Thayne Center service leadership coordinator Brandon Devlin says.
Devlin explains that many necessary services, such as food banks, don’t address the underlying causes that bring people to those services in the first place. These problems run deeper into issues of economics, health and identity, adding further complexity to the social issues these people face.
Devlin adds that a single trip isn’t a quick fix to society’s problems, but rather a step to shaping citizens who are actively engaged in their community, who then make proactive choices to address the issues and seek solutions.
“We aren’t there to solve the issue, really the most important thing about an Alternative Spring Break is what people do with their experiences when they come back,” he says.
Devlin compares these trips to reading fantasy novels, in which a world so unlike our own is created by the author that when something you can relate to in your own life comes up, it stands out in a powerful way. Alternative Breaks are organized outside of Salt Lake City to help highlight the contrasts in a student’s mind.
“The juxtaposition between the familiar and the unfamiliar is the same thing that happens in Alternative Breaks,” he says. “Students go out to San Francisco to explore how the people in the Tenderloin District handle homelessness. And then when you see things that are familiar they stand out in stark contrast, because there’s no Golden Gate Bridge in Salt Lake City, but I sure as heck see a lot of people with cardboard signs. So through the differences we can see the similarities more clearly.”
Alternative Break initiatives for Spring 2017 include Facing Homelessness in San Francisco, Food Access and Sustainability in Seattle, Immigration in the United States in San Diego, and Animal Rights in Kanab, Utah.
Devlin believes that students who participate in one of these initiatives will see greater personal benefits than a normal spring break can provide.
“You’re gonna have vacations for the rest of your life,” he says. “Yes, we need to unwind; yes, self-care is very important; and I think Alternative Breaks help the student ask the question, ‘Who am I and what is important to me?’ And so an [Alternative] Break is actually going to be more rejuvenating and fulfilling.”
For more information on Alternative Breaks and other volunteer opportunities, visit the Thayne Center for Service and Learning in room STC 020C at the Taylorsville Redwood Campus.