Volunteer program allows UNA students chance to serve

UNA students pose in Washington, D.C. during the 2015 spring break trip. The group focused on homelessness and poverty, said Coordinator of Leadership and Volunteerism Bethany Oliver.

While many students take a year off of school to travel after graduation, UNA offers opportunities for travel during the school year.

Alternative Breaks Board, a program under the Office of Student Engagement, gives students the chance to volunteer around the country or even outside of the country for service projects.

“When you’re in school and you’re in our community every day, it’s easy to kind of start losing sight of the things that happen around us,” said Coordinator of Leadership and Volunteerism Bethany Oliver.

Oliver said the program plans trips for fall and spring breaks, and she is hoping to incorporate trips for summer and Christmas breaks, as well. As for the objective of the trips?

“We try to take students out of what seems normal to them and put them in a different situation,” she said. “All of the trips are focused on a specific social issue.”

Issues the program focused on for spring break of 2015 were homelessness and poverty in Washington, D.C., disaster relief and restoration in New Orleans and community development in Haiti.

Senior Caroline Thomas said she spent her spring break in D.C. as an inexpensive way to be productive and learn from others.

“We worked with organizations that are advocates for people who may need help but don’t know how to start asking for it,” she said. “My eyes were opened to the legal battles that people without possessions have to face.”

Sophomore Nicholas Smith ventured across the Gulf of Mexico to Haiti for his spring break.

“My favorite part of the trip would have to be realizing the need for nothing amongst the village we lived in for the week,” he said. “Although these kids had nothing, they made do with what they could find. Never did I see a child who did not have a smile on their face. The sense of community is what did it for me.”

Smith enjoyed the trip so much, in fact, he plans to return to Haiti this fall.

The trips are also inexpensive — Oliver said there is a flat rate for each type of trip. Domestic trips via car or bus will be $150-200, domestic trips via train or flight will be $600 and international trips are a flat $1,000.

“We usually try to find free housing, free food, all that stuff for the week,” she said. “This past (spring) was the first time we’ve been able to do one international and two domestic (trips). Hopefully, since the program is growing, we’ll be able to keep the international one in there and add some more domestic trips, too.”

Senior Sierra Berryman traveled to New Orleans for spring break and said she plans to take another ABB trip before she graduates.

“It was the best spring break trip that I ever had and students are missing out if they don’t try it at least once during their time at UNA,” she said.

Berryman said it is also a chance to network with people passionate about service.

“Getting to know the other volunteers from Wisconsin and France who were staying at Common Ground Relief with us and meeting residents of New Orleans was the most unforgettable part of the trip,” she said.

Nervous about traveling? Smith said it is as simple as relaxing and taking opportunities offered, knowing you yourself will grow in the end.

“It will teach you some things about yourself that you never knew were true.”