University students transform through Alternative Seasonal Breaks program

A group of volunteers takes a break from packing food at the Illinois Food Bank in Springfield, Ill. last year.

By Maria Rubin De Celis

ASB is a student-run volunteer organization on campus sponsored by the YMCA. It provides students with the opportunity to volunteer all around the country during fall, winter, spring and summer breaks. Recently, ASB added six new trips for Spring Break 2016. On these trips, students are exposed to serious environmental and social justice issues affecting society.

“Before, environmental issues weren’t that important to me, maybe because I didn’t see them firsthand,” said Lorena Munoz, junior in LAS, who went on a trip last spring. “But working as a team (on this trip) literally opened my eyes to what’s going on.”

Munoz went to the Hidden River Cave in Horse Cave, Kentucky. While on the trip, she and her team worked throughout the day to clean up debris surrounding and inside the cave.

“The river has become very nasty over the years and isn’t very healthy,” Munoz explained.

Munoz said the cave is saturated with waste from trash that people leave behind.

Before leaving for the trip, Munoz and her group began learning about the pollution issues while still on campus. ASB provided weekly meetings, where they discussed current environmental realities about the Hidden River Cave.

Sana Singh, senior in LAS and a co-director for ASB, said she prides the organization’s emphasis on education.

Singh said she was motivated to become co-director because she felt ASB transformed her. She has gone on ASB trips that focus on alleviating people out of poverty and homelessness. She said these experiences showed her that volunteering is powerful.

Along with education, organizers also find places to volunteer around Champaign-Urbana that relate to the issues they will see on their trip over break.

“You go and volunteer (in the C-U area) to get some experience and an understanding of what’s going on,” Singh said.

Kasey Umland, associate director and student programs advisor at the University YMCA, said serving locally not only prepares students for their actual ASB trip, but it also provides a platform for students to continue service when they come back on campus.

“To the extent that it’s possible, we want the experience for the participants to not just be the trip,” Umland said. “We hope that when they come back, (we can) engage them in some sort of local service about the same issue they learned on their trip.”

For eight years, Umland has worked with ASB leaders and supports the student-run organization in whatever they need. Umland said she has seen the trips impact students by allowing them to branch out, learn a variety of leadership skills and meet new people.

Umland said she finds ASB’s mission to educate and involve students invaluable.

“ASB lets students branch out and learn more broadly, while making a contribution,” Umland said. “The leadership skills people learn because they’re in the situation, they’re there for a week, and (the issue) they have to focus on can be really transformational.”

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