When it comes to spring break, we all want the same thing: to lick copious amounts of alcohol off the abdominal muscles of attractive strangers.
All kidding aside, alternatives exist to the hedonistic spring break. A number of organizations exist to help put you in touch with those who could benefit from some volunteerism.
This year in particular, many students are looking to Haiti as their must-go hot spot. A number of organizations have set up to support and assist volunteers who wish to spend time in Haiti, such as the Global Volunteer Network and Volunteer Abroad. However, the U.S. Department of State recommends that anyone considering traveling to Haiti exercise extreme caution, saying: "The lack of civil protections in Haiti, as well as the limited capability of local law enforcement to resolve crime, further compounds the security threat to American citizens."
Additionally, hurricane season is approaching for the region. Worth considering.
There are some fantastic ways to help the victims of Haiti's earthquake disaster here at home. Hope For Haiti is an accredited relief organization that's been operating for more than two decades, with a focus on procuring medical supplies and the help of medical students. As always, you can donate to the Red Cross either through the Web site, or by texting the word 'Haiti' to 90999, which will charge $10 automatically to your next phone bill. Both are safe ways to assist in the relief efforts from the comfort of your own living room.
IFor those who want to stay closer to home, the concept of the alternative spring break is not new. For close to 20 years now, organizations like the Atlanta-based BreakAway have been in the not-for-profit business of providing resources to groups looking to lend their services where needed.
BreakAway provides volunteer groups with housing and other resources while on sites performing work such as voter registration in rural southern states, building homes in Appalachia, or conducting literacy programs for migrant workers in Florida. The best way to work with BreakAway is to check to see if there's an existing branch at your school. After that, it's just a matter of raising the money to fund your trip.
One longstanding coalition of charitable organizations, the United Way, has you covered for altruistic activities during both spring and summer breaks. This year, the efforts of the United Way alternative spring break are focused on helping communities that are still suffering from the effects of hurricanes of the last few years. Groups and individuals can contribute assistance to helping these communities meet their basic needs.
This program requires a $150 fee, which includes travel, food, and lodging, and will help you get going on your fundraising. The experiences of those who participated in 2009's UW alternative spring break, in words and pictures, seem so much more rewarding than drinking everything in Cancun.
Another big name, Habitat for Humanity, also offers spring break and summer programs. This organization is focusing its home building and restoration efforts on hurricane-ravaged regions of the southern United States. Although 2010 spring break opportunities are now closed, there's still time to get involved and spend your summer break helping those less fortunate.
Fees for the Collegiate Challenge program can range from as little as $10 to $200, depending on the site and activity. Opportunities to participate as an individual and group are available. Use the site to check if there's a Habitat chapter on your campus. If so, you may have enough time to register with that group, do some fundraising, and join them at their selected volunteer site in time for this year's spring break.
If you aren't part of a school organization, or can't get together with a group of friends to take a trip, you're not out of luck. The HandsOn Network is an easy to use database of hundreds of volunteer opportunities. Search by both activity and neighborhood to find ways to spend your time not only during spring break, but year round. Volunteering doesn't always have to be gigantic, epic construction or engineering projects. Sometimes it's best to give locally, and you can help best by reading to elderly members of your community, or by befriending and mentoring a disadvantaged child.
It's easy to forget how lucky we are at times, and how much we take for granted. Our problems are problems that the majority of the world would feel lucky to have. Please feel free to share your altruistic spring break ideas and experiences in the comments below.
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