Students Take Alternative Spring Breaks, Make a Difference

By Kelly Sather

March 25, 2011—College students on Spring Break are often well known for heading to the beach and partying, but at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, alternative service learning spring break trips are offered. disastertiff

Through the campus Destination program, students are able to spend one week volunteering in a struggling community. This year, students were offered locations focusing on animal welfare, inner city youth, hurricane relief, rural poverty and sustainability.

The mission of Destination is to challenge students to explore social issues prevailing throughout the United States and beyond. By providing service to the host community, Destination participants learn about social issues, connect what they have experienced to what they see in their own communities and continue their growth in becoming lifelong active citizens.

“Each year we strive to educate individuals about different social issues and help them to understand what they can do to make a difference. Participants involved in the Destination program not only perform a great deal of service during their break, but continue serving once they return to their home communities,” says Christa Hoel, Destination student manager.

UWRF students traveled to Pittsboro, N.C., to learn about and work with animals at the Carolina Tiger Rescue and also provided construction and maintenance assistance for the center.

"After coming back from our trip, you definitely have a different perspective on things that make you want to do more," says Erin Berndt, a freshman pre-major from St. Paul, Minn. who went on alternative spring break.

Students also traveled to New Orleans, La., to restore and revitalize homes destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. Destination participants helped in various stages of home reconstruction with the mindset that New Orleans can be rebuilt, one house at a time.

"This trip was one of the most beneficial ways I could have spend my time. I got to learn about natural disasters, the rebuilding process, another culture, my group members, and even myself," says Shanna Thomsen, a sophomore pre-major from Waukesha.

UWRF students traveled to Kansas City, Mo., to work with Operation Breakthrough. This organization allowed Destination participants to help children living in poverty to develop to their fullest potential by providing them a safe, loving and educational environment. Students did so by reading to and tutoring school age children.

Students visited Kincaid, W.Va., to work with the Southern Appalachian Labor School to provide rehabilitation and new home construction, weatherization of coal-camp housing for low income homeowners and mentoring for high school drop-outs and at-risk young adults.

In Portland, Ore., students worked with the ReBuilding Center to provide resources to benefit the community with the goal of promoting sustainable practices.

“Through these trips, UWRF students, faculty, and staff represent core values such as integrity, inclusiveness, community, and continuous improvement. It's awesome to see when the group members put so much effort into the work they are doing, as well as seeing them start to ask questions about the issue and search for better answers surrounding social issues,” says Hoel.

Through Destination, participants learn the value of reflection. They also have the opportunity to make new friendships with individuals in their Destination group and those that they meet at their service site.

“Destination is not just a vacation, but a process of self-discovery. During the Destination experience including pre-meetings, the trip, and the celebration afterwards, participants create friendships with other students on campus, learn about different social issues, provide valuable service to a new community and learn how they can bring service into their lives,” says Hoel.

To read more about these trips, visit Destination’s blog site at For more information about Destination, contact Amy Lloyd, leadership training coordinator of student life, at or by phone 715-425-4444 ext. 131.

Photo: UWRF students pose outside a house they helped rebuild in New Orleans, La.

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