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Alternative Spring Break program returns with seven service trips across the country

Students traveled across the country to contribute to housing projects and assist park rangers

<p>Two third-year students led a trip to Arches National Park, where their group collaborated with park rangers to do trash pick up, yard maintenance and removing invasive species of plants.</p>

Two third-year students led a trip to Arches National Park, where their group collaborated with park rangers to do trash pick up, yard maintenance and removing invasive species of plants.

Following the cancellation of a traditional week-long spring break last year, Alternative Spring Break program was able to take its talents across the country again in early March to engage in service trips benefiting communities outside of Charlottesville. Students traveled to sites such as Arches National Park, Sequoia National Park and New Orleans to complete projects focused on environmental restoration and housing needs. 

Alternative Spring Break is a student-run organization that organizes service-based experiences for students during the week of spring break.

In last year’s modified academic calendar — created in an attempt to mitigate COVID-19 transmission —- University administration divided the typical week-long break into several days off distributed across the semester. Without a feasible time frame for long distance travel, the organization instead offered several initiatives within Charlottesville — including service with the Haven, a day shelter and resource center, and the Rivanna Trails Foundation, a group aiming to maintain the local Rivanna Trails.

This semester, with the return of a full week-long break from March 5 through March 13, the executive board was once again able to schedule trips that include travel outside of Virginia.

Katherine Zain, ASB president and fourth-year Batten student, explained that returning members were especially looking forward to this year’s programs after many leaders were unable to participate last year.

“I think our site leaders were really excited to return to some of the sites that they had been to in the past and to lead trips,” Zain said.

The trips fall into two categories — environmental projects and housing projects. Environmental trips allow participants to complete manual labor while learning about the environment at a national or state park. Destinations this year included the Sequoia National Park, Arches National Park, Portland and Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.

Students participating in housing trips address the needs of houseless communities or work with organizations in the housing sector such as Habitat for Humanity or Ronald McDonald House. This year, housing trips took place in Hilton Head, John’s Island and New Orleans.

Julia Moschella, trip leader and third-year Education student, explained that the planning process began over the summer when safety regulations and travel restrictions for the spring were still relatively uncertain.

“We just sort of proceeded as if we were going to be able to go but understanding that anything could still happen,” Moschella said. “So it was definitely challenging to get enough interested people who are willing to go through the planning process with the uncertainty,”

Once the trip sign-ups opened in the fall, however, Moschella reported no shortage of interested applicants — the organization filled all 70 spots across seven trips.

Moschella and third-year College student Morgan Butler co-led the trip to Arches National Park in Moab, Utah, where their group collaborated with park rangers to do trash pick up, yard maintenance and removing invasive species of plants. The group camped in tents and hiked around the park’s arches in between service projects.

“It's a great opportunity to visit a cool place and interact with an organization there that you probably wouldn't have had the opportunity to interact with otherwise,” Moschella said.

Butler added that she most valued the connections formed between students and park rangers, proof of the unique relationships a student is able to build through participation in ASB.

“[Park rangers] have so many fun stories and they're just so knowledgeable about the National Park Service and they care so much about community and like the environment,” Butler said.

As a first-year participant, College student Ayla Pearson learned about the program from upperclassmen friends and said she appreciated the chance to volunteer while experiencing the outdoors.

“It was overall a really rewarding educational experience,” Pearson said. “And I also met some really amazing people along the way.”

Despite initial uncertainties in the planning process, the executive board and trip leaders considered this year’s ASB programs a major success and are already anticipating the ASB trips to come in the next academic year.