Spring break is the only break students get during second semester—a week everyone is always looking forward to. When spring break comes to mind, students think of vacationing somewhere tropical such as Hawaii or Mexico, or just soaking up some sun with a trip to Disneyland.
As all of that sounds like a relaxing thing to do, student Nemneet Dhother had other plans of spending her week long break. She chose to spend her free six days in Portland, Oregon with a few other Sonoma State University students to help volunteer about specific social issues. This purpose was started by an organization on campus called JUMP—Join Us Making Progress.
“JUMP is the community service and volunteerism program of the Associated Students,” according to Erik Dickson, executive director of the Associated Students.
During this experience, students spend a week helping out the community based on a theme that is brought upon a social issue. With each issue comes with a location, though these everyday issues can also be found in your local community such as Sonoma County. A few of the issues JUMP focuses on are homelessness and hunger, environmental stewardship and urban poverty.
Once a student leader, Samantha Ohanian is now director of the Alternative Break program.
“Not only do students partake in 30 or more hours of community service whether it is packaging food at a food bank, or serving food and hygienic items to those who may be experiencing homelessness, but they also educate themselves on the issue they are working with,” said Ohanian.
With 44 spots total, each candidate is chosen through an application and interview process. There is no volunteer experience required to participate, as long as the student is willing and understanding of the work they will be giving forward.
Those selected are then split into four groups where they are set up with their location and issue.
Students get up as early as 7 a.m. and their day ends roughly around 10 p.m. each day on their journey. Students also do not get to choose where they would like to head to, but rather give a preference of what social issue they would like to partake in.
“I’m from San Francisco where there is a lot of homelessness and hunger, so going to Oregon was great because I got to help out a community with an issue that I was pretty familiar with already,” Dhother said.
She learned how to ration out $5 one night with her group on how to come up with a meal for dinner. She also slept in a sleeping bag in a church each night, reminding her how there are so many out there who are not as privileged as your typical college student.
“I loved my experience, it was a lot of hard work but there were also a lot of good moments and realizations on this trip. It was definitely a growing and rewarding experience, there was a lot of appreciation at the end of the day and this is something I am always going to keep with me,” Dhother said.
Although students may not know anyone else in their group, by the end of their experience it was safe to say new friendships were established.
This semester students can learn more about Alternative Breaks by visiting the website www.ssualtbreaks.wordpress.com, or by contacting Ohanion at firstname.lastname@example.org.