School breaks are often looked at by college students as a time to party, catch up on sleep or hang out with high school friends. But for some undergrads , the vacation time is looked at as the perfect time to give back by volunteering.
“I’ve learned so much about how much a strong community makes a difference,” says Julia Thompson, a junior at Merrimack College in Massachusetts. In January, Thompson was one of the student leaders that lead a service trip to Washington, DC where students worked with several community organizations that serve the homeless.
“This is my third service trip,” Thompson explains. “Last year we did a lot of outreach to soup kitchens and helped with preparing the food.” For this trip, Thompson and her group lived in a D.C. hostel where they were responsible for cooking, cleaning and preparing all of their meals when they themselves weren’t volunteering.
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“It’s a time to learn new things,” says Thompson, who is a human development major. “I’m hoping to be a school counselor and it gives me a chance to immerse myself in the experience.”
Preparing for the trip: Although the trip itself is only a week, Thompson explains that it takes months of planning and fundraising to make it happen. “Once a week we had meetings about what service, community and simple living means,” Thompson explains. “We have speakers and group discussions and a letter writing campaign where we ask for thoughts and prayers and possible donations.”
Building a skillset: Thompson also notes that she and the other students embraced the opportunity to gain some real-life work experience to go along with their studies. “I lived a pretty sheltered life growing up,” Thompson, who was raised in Cohasset , notes. “Immersing myself in the work was great.”
A helping hand: Several other area schools also have a strong commitment to community service. Boston University also has both winter and spring break trips as part of its Alternative Service Break program. “It can be kind of competitive,” says the university’s community service coordinator Kelsey Krook , noting the trips are first come, first serve.
This year. among the Winter Break projects was a chance to work with the Gavin Foundation in Boston on different public health projects around the city. “I think it’s a really interesting opportunity to give back to the community that you live in and get out of your comfort zone and see other parts of the city,” says Krook.
Follow Lakshmi Gandhi on Twitter @LakshmiGandhi.