Alternative Break Trips Reach New High

Will Cushman

Spring break: beer, beaches and … community service? For most college students, spring break summons memories of tropical paradises where the beer flows cheaply, or it may summon no memories at all, depending on how cheaply the beer flowed. But for other students, spring break strikes up memories of a considerably more admirable nature, thanks to the Center for Outreach and Volunteer Education (COVE) and its Alternative Spring Break program.

Since its inception, the COVE, has sponsored service-oriented, volunteer spring break trips to a number of destinations. These trips are marketed as an alternative to the stereotypical spring break for those students who are looking to get a little more out of their spring break experiences.

“We see a lot of interest in the trips,” COVE Director Ingrid Hale said. The trips, involving application and sometimes interview processes, fill up fast, often generating long wait lists of interested students.

The trips have run to various locations throughout the years, from Mexico to South Carolina. This year’s trips ran to New Orleans, Kentucky and the Dominican Republic.

The trip to New Orleans, the eighth COVE sponsored trip to the city since Hurricane Katrina, consisted of twenty Hamilton residents, seven students and thirteen staff members, who spent a week contributing to the reconstruction efforts of the city.

According to Hale, even two-and-a-half years after the disaster, there is a lot of work still to be done in many of the neighborhoods of New Orleans. She said that residents still appreciate the help.

“People come up to you and thank you for helping out their city,” she said.

Another trip took 15 students and staff to McCarr, Kentucky to work on Habitat for Humanity projects. Some trip participants worked to improve the volunteer center at the site while others did some needed work on the home of an elderly woman who otherwise could not have afforded such improvements.

COVE intern senior John Sweeney participated in the trip, which was not his first alternative break trip.

“The trips are definitely worth it,” Sweeney said. “There is always a sense of accomplishment and you get to meet people you’re glad to have met.”

The COVE’s third and most ambitious spring break trip, the brainchild of senior Marla Pfenninger and the second abroad trip that has been organized through the COVE, went to Neyba, Dominican Republic. Pfenninger, a long-time member of the COVE, participated in the Colgate study group to the Dominican Republic during her junior year and then returned to the country last summer through an internship with World Vision, an international aid organization.

“I decided that the community I worked with might be a good location for an Alternative Break trip because I had already established a connection with the area and the community partners,” Pfenninger said. She added that the community of Neyba could really benefit from some international attention.

The trip’s aim – to set up a community garden in the village of Neyba – required a lot of preparation. According to Pfenninger, the group met weekly throughout the semester to plan fundraisers as well as nutritional information sessions that the group led while in Neyba.

“The entire group worked so hard,” Pfenninger said. “I have a new found respect for my peers and an appreciation for what a dedicated group can accomplish.”

The trip had such an effect on her that she already considers it a defining moment in her years at Colgate.

“Out of my entire Colgate career, this trip is the thing that I am most proud of,” she said. “It was 110% worth it. I think that going on an international Alternative Break trip, you gain an appreciation for what your life is in relation to others’ lives.”