• Ramapo Promotes Volunteering Through Alternative Spring Break Program

    by  • May 13, 2013 • Features

    By ALEKSANDAR VASILEV

    Hiking and trips to the beach, along with painting classrooms and volunteering to teach schoolchildren. Emily Moore, a junior at Ramapo College managed to accomplish all of this in one week by participating in the Alternative Spring Break, organized by the school.

    The annual Alternative Spring Break program provides students with a different opportunity  to participate in volunteering and helping communities in need.

    “It was so rewarding working with the kids and seeing how excited they were to be at school, ” said Moore. The Civic and Community Engagement center at Ramapo organized the program to include trips both in the United States and abroad.

    Asheville, NC, New Orleans, LA, Perryville, AK and Rutland, MA were among the national destinations.  The international options included the Dominican Republic and Costa Rica.


    View Alternative Spring Break Trips in a larger map
    “We wanted to expose our students to opportunities, where they can be submerged in other cultures and be active during spring break,” said Brandon Martin, graduate assistant for civic engagement at Ramapo.

    “It’s very impactful and our students come back and they are very excited about what they learned and they want to share what they learned,” added Martin.

    The Movement

    Summary of the Break Away Trips

    The Ramapo College Alternative Spring Break is a part of a national movement called “Break Away,” which connects college campuses to non-profit organizations that need volunteers.

    “Break Away: the Alternative Break Connection, Inc. is a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that supports the development of quality alternative break programs by providing training and information primarily to colleges, universities, and nonprofit organizations interested in creating lifelong active citizens through these intensive service-learning programs,” according to Break Away’s official website

    According to Break Away, 140 schools participated in the Alternative Spring Break movement this year.  These schools provided a total of 1,487 trips to various locations in 25 different countries.

    More than 17,000 individual participants became part of the program across the country.

    “As part of a quality Break Away experience, participants will become more educated and experienced in all sides of a social issue,” according to Break Away’s official website “Upon return, they will be empowered to make more informed decisions and take meaningful action that supports a greater good. They will become contributing members of society and will weigh in on issues that impact their communities.”

    The Cost

    Ramapo provided the majority of the funding for the students, who decided to be a part of the Alternative Spring Break program.  The college subsidized transportation, lodging and food for the participants. Faculty and staff members from Ramapo College facilitated the trips and supervised the volunteers.

    Students only needed to contribute a small portion of the cost to cover some of their expenses and demonstrate their commitment. The least expensive trip was to Rutland and cost $75, while the most expensive – to Costa Rica – was $85

    Trip Asheville Perryville Rutland New Orleans Costa Rica Dominican Republic
    Cost $325 $325 $75 $325 $850 $800
    Participants 10 9 14 9 8 14
    Activities building low-income homes world hunger
    simulation
    poverty simulation re-building houses, working in community garden taking care of animals, planting trees working with students, renovating classrooms

    The Civic and Community Engagement Center at Ramapo hosted several events to fundraise for the trips and provide students with the opportunity to participate at a low cost.

    The staff organized and Alternative Spring Break Festival on Nov. 8, which aimed to introduce students to the various  trip options and earn funds through the sale of candy and traditional products.

    In addition, CCEC organized an event called “Pie a Ramapro,” where members of the college community had the opportunity to smash a plate of whipped cream into the face of staff member. To enjoy this privilege, the participants had to make a minimum donation of $1.

     To read the article in Ramapo News about “Pie a Ramapro,” click here.

    The Experience

    The community service activities students engaged in varied a lot at the different locations. They included working with children, building houses, sustainable farming, and helping animals.

    For example volunteers in Ashville worked with Habitat for Humanity to build houses for low income families in the community.

    The trip to Costa Rica allowed students to work with the animals from the Macauw sanctuary. Their responsibilities included feeding the animals and cleaning of their cages, as well as maintain agricultural fields in the region.

    “The first day we were there we painted 5 classrooms at a local public school,” shared Moore. “The rest of the days were spent at the Dream Center. We would volunteer in the classrooms for most of the school day until around 4. Some days we would go hiking, to the beach or to another of Dream’s sites in the DR. Most of our work was in the classroom, on our last day we even ran our own lesson plans for the kids.”

    ‘My trip to the DR allowed me to experience the culture in a way that I would not have been able to otherwise,” she added.

    “Our work was in a neighborhood called, the Lower Ninth Ward, the poorest in New Orleans and the one hit the hardest by Katrina,” said Tsveta Dobreva, a senior who attended one of the other trips. “A typical day included about seven hours of work on a couple houses at different stages of construction.”

    ” It was a great way to meet interesting people, exchange ideas, and learn more about New Orleans,” Dobreva added.

    “It was an incredible experience,” said Martin who went on the trip to Costa Rica along with the students. “We really became a family within a week. Everyone cried when we left.”

    “We just got our survey results back,” he added. “So far, overwhelmingly positive.”

    The Impact

    Two of the trips, Arkansas and Massachusetts, were simulations, and were focused on the students learning about different social issues, rather than providing actual service.

    The other four trips, however, allowed students to Ramapo students to contribute to the society and make a positive change.

    “In Costa Rica, I can tell you, we donated two microscopes from the school to them and this is going to completely change their capability to do their own research,” said Martin.

    He also added that Ramapo’s contact in Guatemala was “extremely, extremely thankful.”

    Some of the communities the students visited had an extreme need of volunteers’ help. The participants worked to address issues in the area.

    “I was taken aback when we were told that 100 percent of the neighborhood’s houses were damaged by Katrina; also, currently just 25 percent of the houses are habitable,”  said Dobreva.

    I think that the Dream students were excited to go to school because the Ramapo students were there,” said Moore. “They were proud of themselves and so happy to see us every morning when we got off of our bus.”

    “I also think that the Ramapo students gave the Dream volunteers a breath of fresh air, we helped them in the classrooms and ran the class one day,” Moore added.

    The Future 

    Another international trip was originally planned as part of the alternative spring break program. Students were supposed to go to Cajolá, Guatemala and work with schoolchildren and local business initiatives.

    However, the Guatemala trip was cancelled since the location was considered unsafe for college students. “Due to extraneous circumstances in Guatemala at this time, Ramapo cannot ensure the safety of its students,” said an email sent to the applicants for the trip. However, the college is currently working on revisiting the spring break to Guatemala for next year.

    To read the article in Ramapo News about the trip to Guatemala being cancelled, click here.

    Martin said that the college is currently looking at new opportunities and that there is a chance Ramapo will offer a trip to Morocco in the future. Another idea is to expand the program to include alternative winter and summer breaks in addition to the trips in the spring.

    “We are always looking to expand, grow, develop,” said the graduate assistant.

    [Video: Watch the preview of three Alternative Spring Break Trips prepared by CCEC]

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