University of Vermont

University Communications

Injecting Spring Break With Service

150 students participate in 27th year of Alternative Spring Break program

New Orleans ASB group
Students in the New Orleans Alternative Spring Break group after their first day of service with St. Bernard Project, helping to rebuild houses destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. 150 students are volunteering nationwide this week as part of the program. (Photo via Instagram @uvmasb_nola)

The phrase “spring break” recalls, for most, images of palm trees and pool parties. But this week, 150 UVM students will travel thousands of miles to participate in a decidedly different kind of experience: Alternative Spring Break. 15 groups, each with 10 students, will perform a combined 5,000 hours of service in places as far south as Everglades National Park and as far west as an alternative high school outside Denver. (See an interactive map of where all the trips are headed.) 

The program is in its 27th year at UVM, and is part of a growing trend on college campuses, with hundreds of similar substance-free spring break trips offered around the U.S. Laura Megivern, assistant director of Leadership and Civic Engagement Programs, advises ASB’s four student directors, and says the program is so popular, it has a lengthy waiting list. ASB even added two new trips this year: to God’s Love We Deliver, an NYC-based meal delivery service for people with chronic illnesses, and the Appalachian South Folklife Center in West Virginia.

Why are students interested in giving up their spring break to serve? For neuroscience major Kerry Breen ’18, the reason she chose to be a co-leader on a trip to Horsepower (a therapeutic riding center in North Carolina) is deeply personal. “My younger sister has special needs,” says Breen with a smile. “I used to go to therapy with her, and I’m looking forward to giving back to other families.” The group will help with the center’s classes, guiding students and tending to the horses and barns.

Hannah Kearns ’17, a public communications major and Horsepower’s other co-leader, sees ASB as a chance to get valuable experience for her post-grad career. “I was accepted to Teach for America to work with students with special needs in San Diego after graduation,” says Kearns.

Junior Alicia Gusan is one of ASB’s student directors, and says that the program’s helped her gain skills she might not have otherwise as a nursing major. “For students who are maybe studying something more data driven, for example, it’s a great way to get leadership experience,” she says.  

ASB isn’t just about doing service. Megivern says the program’s other pillars are educating students about social issues and allowing them to reflect. To aid in that reflection, each group is given a journal, plus daily activities and readings like “Theme for English B,” a poem written by Langston Hughes in 1951. 

“The pieces are historical, but still real today,” explains Megivern, who carefully selects items that will provoke deeper thinking and discussion. “The themes of the trips are all different, from national parks to meal delivery to alternative high schools, but they all come down to the role of community. We ask them to think about, what does it mean to be a student? What does it mean to be different?”

“ASB also teaches you a lot about group formation,” says Gusan. Most students start the week as strangers, but develop close bonds after traveling thousands of miles, serving side-by-side and discussing their experiences. 

Gusan hopes the experience sticks with students much longer than one week. “Our goal is for students to bring that desire and passion for social change back to campus,” she says. “We want them to come back here and continue to be advocates.” 

Follow along as students post on social media with #uvmasb:

Interested in supporting Alternative Spring Break? Contribute to the LuvMyClub challenge through April 14