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Alternative Spring Break provides perspective with community service

Published: Monday, April 15, 2013

Updated: Monday, April 15, 2013 00:04


Photo courtesy of Sarah Elsey

Students washed windows as part of their community service.

     Many students come back from spring break well-rested and tanned. Students in the Alternative Break Program came back with stories.

     The Alternative Break Program, a club at UCCS led by Sarah Elsey, invites students to participate in community service during break.

     This year, 17 students volunteered over spring break and split into two volunteer groups – one went to Denver and the other to Cheyenne, Wyo.

     Elsey is a graduate student in the Master’s in Educational Leadership program, Student Affairs Higher Education through the College of Education.

     She completed her undergraduate degree in Texas, and when she started her master’s at UCCS, wanted to start an alternative break program because she had such great experiences on these types of trips during her undergraduate career.

     Gabriel Cordova, who went with the Denver group, said it was a wonderful exposure to the real world for college students.

     The most powerful thing for him was Bessie’s Hope, an organization where the team served elderly people and those with Alzheimer’s and dementia.

     “We forget,” he said, “that all of us are getting older every day, and we overlook our elders and everything they can teach us.”

     In coordinating the trip this year, Elsey partnered with various organizations. Students volunteered with more than four nonprofits in Denver and with Recover Wyoming and Saddle Tramps in Cheyenne.

     Shawn Partin, a student who went to Denver, said the people he met were memorable. When working at a soup kitchen, he expressed surprise at the people he was serving.

     “Many of them didn’t seem like the standard hopeless, dirty, decrepit people that you’d come to expect at a soup kitchen. Many of them were still full of energy, still seemed like they’d just fallen on a bit of hard times. They could bounce back easily enough if just given the opportunity.”

     Each night, the groups spent time reflecting on their experiences in order to make their service meaningful to their own lives and experiences. Reflections were planned before the trip, with topics for discussion.

     “We talked a little bit during the reflections about how we also need service or what benefits we get as volunteers,” said Stefan Eiles, who went on the Wyoming trip.

     “It’s an interesting relationship, and we discussed different quotes. One that stuck with me was ‘he who secures the good of others has already secured his own,’ to paraphrase Confucius,” he said.

     “It’s just, you don’t go in it for the benefits yourself, but afterwards, the results that I experienced personally was really astounding. I mean, it was a spring break, it was refreshing and relaxing and a lot of fun, but it was meaningful.”

     Elsey set a mindset before the trip. “Hearing both groups say that maybe things weren’t what they expected is kind of the point,” she said.

     “We ask people when they sign up for the trip to not have too high of expectations because we’re going to help with these organizations because they need our help. It may not be the most fun work you could think of doing in service,” she said.

     “But the fact that the students never complained, and we were there to do what the organizations needed from us – keeping in mind being safe – allowed us to meet our goals. It was a fantastic experience, and I am very thankful for the students who spent their spring break with the program.”

      Eiles concluded, “I’m only here for another year, but if I had three more years, I would go every spring break.”

      To find how to be involved with the Alternative Beak Program, students can contact Sarah Elsey at or Crystal Wetzel at

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