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Drop the beer, pick up the hammer Alternative Spring Break offers students a service learning experience

A group of students from the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley will skip most of their Spring Break to give back to the community.

The Alternative Spring Break program,coordinated by Student Involvement’s Leadership and Social Change program, provides another option for students who seek a different experience during their vacation.

“I think it’s a great opportunity for students to give back to the community, to learn [from] other things aside from just books,” said Erika Rodriguez, a senior math major who works in Student Involvement.

Rodriguez, who participated in UT Brownsville’s program before its consolidation with UT Pan American last fall, said she obtained leadership skills and networking opportunities while giving back to the community and learning to be grateful for what she has.

Raul Leal, program coordinator for Leadership and Social Change at Student Involvement, said Alternative Spring Break is a unique way to give back to the community, and provide students with a way to “pull themselves out of their normal mindset.”

“We want [students] to get a broader perspective of different social issues and community service agencies out there,” Leal said. “It kind of opens your eyes to some of the issues that aren’t really prevalent or don’t really get to the forefront of our thoughts.”

The program runs from the March 14 to 17, during which participants will stay at the Unity Hall on the Edinburg campus. Students will be provided with three daily meals and transportation to and from the sites where they will volunteer. They must provide their own pillows, sheets and blankets.

The deadline to apply was last Friday and students who were accepted will have the opportunity to work with six nonprofit organizations.

Participants will work in off-campus locations such as Habitat for Humanity, where they will help build a house in Alamo, and at the Rio Grande Valley Food Bank in Pharr. On campus, students will write cards to servicemen and women for the nonprofit organization A Million Thanks, make paracord bracelets for Operation Gratitude and create decorative pillow covers for hospitalized children for Ryan House.

This experience, however, is not meant to consist only of hard work. Students will also be provided with some recreational time.

“In between service activities, we will have some pool time at [UREC],” Leal said. “We will also provide them with one dinner at the Main Event so that way, they can relax after a full day of volunteering, do some bowling and de-stress.”

Additionally, participants will take some time each day to journal and reflect on the day’s activity, as well as to interact with their peers.

Soraya Berlanga, a criminal justice freshman who attended an informational session last Tuesday on the Brownsville campus, showed great interest in participating this year.

“I think it’s a very good experience volunteering, and I enjoy helping my community and giving back to others,” Berlanga said. “I would love to learn more of the real world.”

A similar session was held on the Edinburg campus.

Students who missed the deadline to apply may send an email to raul.leal01@utrgv.edu and leadership@utrgv.edu to present their case for a late application.

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