How Alternative Spring Break Trips Build More than Houses

Posted By: Maria Hartz News ,

A hardworking, stressed, and probably exhausted college student amid their second semester of the year could choose absolutely anything to do for their one week of freedom from classes during spring break. They could go back home to visit friends, go on vacation, or make the brave and bold choice to attend an Alternative Spring Break trip.

Alternative Spring Break (ASB) is a term long used by nonprofit organizations to title service experiences for students to get away for a week to be immersed and serve in a local community. Every ASB experience will vary across different organizations. As both a former ASB student volunteer and currently a full-time coordinator for ASB within my organization, I can attest to the difference that these trips can make on a student’s life. I hope the tips, tricks, and words of wisdom here can be a source of inspiration to you and your organizations as you do the hard, messy, and beautifully rewarding work of hosting Alternative Spring Break trips.

There’s more to a service trip than just the service. 

I know this sounds contradictory and like it defeats the entire purpose of a service trip. But if all you have prepared for your student volunteers is waking up early, hammering nails for 8 hours, and going to bed only to do it all again the next day – they might not have the most positive experience. Encourage staff members to be engaged with students and help facilitate engagement with homeowners or community partners. These relationships can make or break an ASB trip and should be a top priority. Your students may not remember how to use a circular saw four years after their trip, but they will probably remember the people they built relationships with while they were serving.

Provide time for thoughtful reflection. 

This experience might be the first time a student has ever stepped foot out of their home state, seen this part of the country (or world), or tried the specific type of service they are doing. To cram all of that into one week and throw in spending time with strangers, sleeping in a bunkbed with 30 other people snoring in the room around them, and navigating all of this as a young adult is A LOT to process. Provide space for thoughtful talks or devotions as a large group, but also allow time for students to break off into smaller groups to reflect on the week they are having.

Don’t be afraid to ask “So, what’s next?” 

College students especially might cringe at this question, especially if they’ve just heard it from every family member at Christmas break. However, we as staff facilitators never know what an ASB trip will inspire in a student. Maybe this week has changed their mind about their major, or even their career path. Maybe they are now considering a year of service. Or maybe they’re not quite sure and are still figuring it all out. Don’t be afraid to make yourself available to have conversations with student volunteers and be willing to share your story with them. Your conversation might be planting seeds that will grow into something amazing! 

Remember to step back and take it all in.

After what has likely been nearly a year of planning – setting up service projects, organizing the volunteers, planning meals, preparing your lodging facility, etc. – be proud of what you have done! Alternative Spring Break planning is no small task but know that your hard work will be worth more than you will probably ever see. Remember to take a minute to remove yourself from the activity and just observe – conversations, laughter, meals shared together, and even the goodbye tears shed at the end of the week. This experience will hopefully not only be one that your students never forget, but one that you never forget as well.

Maria Hartz is the Cumberland Valley Mission Groups Coordinator at Christian Appalachian Project. She is passionate about providing a great experience for every volunteer she meets. Outside of her work, her passions include traveling, reading, podcasts, and guacamole making.