In her final semester at the University of Rochester, Allison Barra has decided to apply her desire for community service and her love for the environment to the Tree Utah program. Next week, she will be a site leader as part of Alternative Spring Break.
"I sometimes feel like there are so many opportunities at the feet of students," says Barra from Cherry Valley, N.Y. "I didn't want to leave college wondering if there was something I should have done. I wanted to get more involved and make a difference."
Barra, an earth and environmental sciences major, was looking for a way to branch out and meet new people. For 10 years, that same motivation has drawn undergraduates to Alternative Spring Break. Sponsored by the Community Service Network, the program offers students the opportunity to learn and to serve the community.
Last March, Barra spent the week in Florida-though not at the beach-preparing and shingling four roofs for Habitat for Humanity. "I was really proud of the whole group of students because we did so much, and I don't think any of us had done roofing before," she says. "I felt optimistic because I had just met a bunch of really great, caring, people."
During this year's spring break, March 9 to 17, approximately 50 student in groups of four to 15 will travel to six sites around the country. They have chosen to plant trees and work on community renewal in Utah, build affordable homes in Florida, work on environmental issues in Hells Canyon in Oregon, help migrant farmworkers and their children near New Paltz, N.Y., assist at a rural project in West Virginia, and pitch in at an urban church in Maryland.
Barra and seven other students will be working on ecological restoration along the Jordan River. By planting various trees and shrubs through a project called Tree Utah, they hope to replenish the habitat and secure a place for more than 150 species of migratory birds. She is especially excited about the prospect of working with local people because "the experience can stay with you longer."
The cost for each student participating in Alternative Spring Break averages $300. Fundraisers, such as chili lunches and pancake breakfasts, help subsidize the cost of food and travel. Housing is generally provided by the organization involved, or camping is an option in some cases.
Alternative Spring Break began in 1992 when a group of five University of Rochester students went to Chicago to work with Uptown Habitat for Humanity.
Months of planning and organizing are necessary, but the results are meaningful. "I felt inspired to do more community service in Rochester after bringing one week in March home with me," says Barra.