While hundreds of Weber State University students will leave classrooms behind during spring break, a handful will leave to volunteer around the country and around the world. Groups will head to Guatemala, New Orleans and Catalina Island, California, to serve the local communities.

The Alternative Spring Break trips, hosted by the Center for Community Engaged Learning (CCEL), will give students a chance to spend a week immersed in service work. Participants will connect with local nonprofit organizations during the trips to serve in meaningful and efficient ways.

“These trips take you outside of your daily bubble,” said Melissa Eisert, Alternative Breaks director. Eisert first experienced a CCEL service trip as a student participant. She enjoyed it so much she went back again as a trip leader. Now, she gets to help even more people experience what she loved by serving as the director.

“It allows you to see the world in a way that connects us all,” Eisert said. “Serving others in different parts of the world helps us to see the need not only in other places, but the needs of people at home too.”

In Guatemala, students will work directly with native families to help them better meet nutritional requirements and improve food accessibility. They will collaborate with the nonprofit organization Cultiva to build, install and plant garden boxes for local families to grow their own food. Cultiva provides education to families before, during and after the garden construction. The families are taught how to care for their plants, harvest food and cook with the ingredients they’ve produced. 

During the trip to New Orleans, volunteers will focus on community development and recovery. Though Hurricane Katrina struck more than a decade ago, the city is still dealing with storm-related damage. Students will work to improve and strengthen communities by rebuilding homes and helping low-income families.

For the first time, a volunteer group will be made up of all first-generation college students. These students, who are the first of their family to pursue a four-year college degree, will travel to Catalina Island, California. They will focus on improving environmental sustainability on the island. Projects will include removing non-native plant species that threaten to overtake the island’s native plant life. By managing plants, volunteers are protecting the island’s habitats and maintaining the ability to grow food on the island.

Each spring-break trip group contributes at least 600 hours of service work, though that number can vary depending on how many participants join. CCEL has offered service trips since as early as 1993. They now host annual Alternative Break trips for spring, fall and summer.

The generous support from nonprofit partners, as well as WSU faculty and staff who donate their time, contributes to the success of the trips. Their commitment to service allows WSU to host trips year after year.

“We have done a lot of these trips and have learned and grown,” said Mike Moon, CCEL assistant director. “We have the tools to ensure the projects are sustainable and impactful. We give our students tools to be agents of positive change in our local community and continue to serve when they get back.”