While some U-M students are spending this week’s spring break soaking up the sun on beaches far south of Ann Arbor, others are finding an alternative through Alternative Spring Break. Members of the Alumni Association are making their experience even more meaningful by bringing the Michigan community to the student volunteers.
U-M was one of the first institutions to challenge what spring break could look like. Instead of relaxing in warmer locales, students participate in week-long community service projects. And the popularity of volunteering has increased—approximately 300 students will be participating in 20 different cities.
“I wonder how long the word ‘alternative’ will be used,” said Danyelle Reynolds, alternative breaks coordinator at U-M’s Ginsberg Center—referring to the increasing popularity of the program
ASB can challenge preconceived notions of social issues. Trips this year focus on projects like delivering meals to those suffering from HIV/AIDS, providing housing to those affected by rural poverty, and helping chronically ill children in a nature camp.
“The students are getting to put a human face on those social issues. So when they come back they are that much more passionate about pursuing solutions,” Reynolds said.
To help support student volunteers, the Alumni Association has partnered with the Ginsberg Center—the only partnership of its kind on campus. As students travel across the country, local alumni clubs host them, keeping the Michigan community close and giving alumni the chance to connect directly with students. The U of M Club of Detroit will take students doing social work to the Detroit Institute of Arts, while clubs in Chicago and St. Louis will host a dinner for students working with literacy and special education.
“It’s something that the students have really enjoyed—engaging with leaders of alumni clubs,” Reynolds said. She leaves it up to the students and club leaders to organize their events together.
Students traveling to San Diego will install solar panels on a Native American reservation. To round out their experience, the U of M Club of San Diego has organized an event that provides mentoring with more than 30 alumni professionals.
“It really makes me feel proud to see all these people willing to help,” said Hilary Macphail, ’79, vice president of the club. Macphail reached out to students beforehand so she could find the mentors that best fit their career interests.
The experience of ASB doesn’t end with students simply giving their time. Reynolds says this is an important part of their education.
“ASB has taught me things that no other student organization or experience has. I learned more about my community, my passions, my relationships, and myself than I could have ever imagined,” said senior Jennifer Liu.