You’re not in Mexico anymore: Alternative Spring Break

Photo courtesy of Nick Becharas

Photo courtesy of Nick Becharas

By Erica Yuenger

It is time for spring break. You go with your friends to the latest spring break hotspot to party and drink for five days straight. But at the end of the week, the only lasting contribution you will have made will probably be the hole in your hotel room wall.

Alternative Spring Break gives University of Illinois students a chance to get out of town for spring break and make a real difference in the lives of others.

Alternative Spring Break is a nonprofit volunteer organization that was founded in 1989 by University students in affiliation with the University YMCA.

Since the first trip to Brownsville, Texas, with 22 volunteers, the Alternative Spring Break program has grown into an organization that sends more than 300 students throughout the country each year.

“We try to raise awareness of issues that are important to other parts of the country and try to bring that awareness back to the Champaign-Urbana community,” said Tracy Colin, internal relations chairwoman for the Alternative Spring Break planning board.

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Nick Becharas, sophomore in LAS, went to Moody Forest, Ga., in the spring of 2007 to help restore the natural ecological system at a nature conservancy.

Along with the 12 other members in his group, Becharas planted grass seeds, helped to maintain the nature trails and built a boardwalk. In their downtime, he said, they were able to drive out to Savannah, Ga., for some sightseeing.

“Alternative Spring Break is an opportunity to go somewhere other than the typical party scene,” Becharas said. “It’s a chance to volunteer to make a difference in a community other than yours.”

Becharas will be working as a site facilitator in Harrodsburg, Ky., this spring break.

He said he will be working with an organization called Open Ground, a camp that focuses on art therapy to raise cultural and environmental awareness for people who feel they are outsiders in the community.

The Alternative Spring Break program is offering 16 different trips this spring, including a new trip called Illinois Reality Check.

“We send people all over the country, but we also wanted to bring awareness to a lot of issues that affect Illinois because we have never done that before,” Colin said.

The trip will send students to Chicago and East St. Louis, Ill., to work with the environment and victims of domestic violence, Colin said.

A profile of the Alternative Spring Break program on the Parent Programs Web site said the typical cost of one of the trips is $275. The cost includes transportation, lodging and food for the entire week.

“It’s a phenomenal deal,” said Cristina Rebellon, sophomore in ACES. “You’re traveling somewhere, you’re going to meet new people and you’re going to make a difference in people’s lives for under $300 for the whole week.”

Rebellon said she will be going on her first Alternative Spring Break trip this spring, to Harrodsburg, Ky.

In addition to the spring break trips, Alternative Spring Break also organizes trips for fall, winter and summer breaks.

Students can learn more about Alternative Spring Break through its Web site under the Registered Student Organization directory or by attending a weekly meeting on Sunday nights at 8 p.m. at the University YMCA.

Becharas said anyone looking for something out of the ordinary to do on spring break should try Alternative Spring Break.

“You could be doing something to help somebody rather than just partying,” Becharas said. “It’s just a great feeling knowing that you made a difference.”