For many college students, the words “spring break” conjure up images of lying on an exotic beach — or at least the couch.

For 211 Georgetown students and four faculty members, however, last week’s spring break served as an opportunity to participate in a social justice learning experience and to form close friendships.

“I would definitely recommend it to people. I think, you have four spring breaks in your Georgetown career, and you should at least make one of them an alternative spring break,” participant Justin Hawkins (COL ’11) said. “Just to be able to give that service to the community [makes it worthwhile], and then the things that it gives back to you are huge as well.”

This year, the Center for Social Justice offered 15 different trips through its alternative spring break program. Students who were selected to participate after the highly competitive application process traveled in groups that generally included between 15 and 20 participants. The students were given a wide range of destinations across the United States and various types of service, such as building houses.

A number of the ASB trips brought Georgetown students to the southernmost states in the country, including the GU HERE: Hurricane Relief trip to Mississippi, the Border Awareness Experience trip to Texas, the Immokalee Migrant Worker Justice trip to Florida, the Kino Border Immersion trip to Arizona and the Blanket New Orleans trip. There were five travel sites available for Spring Break in Appalachia trips, and three sites available for Habitat for Humanity trips. The Native American Experience trip to North Carolina kept students closer to campus, and students who participated in the Worker Justice D.C. trip stayed in the District.

Josh Feller (COL ’11) was one of three trip leaders for the Habitat for Humanity trip to Charleston, S.C. His group spent eight days working to improve two houses in the town of East Cooper and worked seven hours a day, with one day off.

“We helped to put up exterior walls, interior framework, a roof, a porch and many other smaller projects that are necessary for the house,” he said. “My group and I left the week with a much greater appreciation for the work that goes into building a house, and also with a better understanding of the housing and social justice issues in the Charleston area.”

Hawkins, a participant on the Spring Break in Appalachia trip to Chavies, Ky., said he learned much from the experience of helping to improve a family’s dilapidated home.

“The awareness that that sort of poverty exists in America is something that I’m not sure I was personally familiar with. I knew it intellectually, but [was] not personally aware of. It was an eye-opening experience insofar as it made me aware of how blessed I am to be here,” he said.

Students on alternative spring break not only made concrete improvements in the community, but also left a positive impression on those they were helping, according to Arianna Pattek (SFS ’12), a trip leader for the Habitat for Humanity trip to Delray Beach, Fla.

“Every person we interacted with was so rejuvenated and thankful for our presence that it was quite overwhelming. The residents of Delray were so happy to see that college students were so willing to use their spring break to engage in social justice work,” she said.

Many students who went on the trips said that they returned to campus with a better understanding of the difficult situation faced by many Americans living below the poverty line. But spending time with peers was also a motivation for applying, students said. Mariele Marki (COL ’13), a leader of one of the trips to Kentucky, attributed the quick formation of friendships to the fact that the students lived together for a week while working on their service projects.

In order to participate in an ASB trip, students had to fill out applications. Members of the groups were often chosen with diversity in mind. Matthew Hoyt (COL ’12), a leader on a Mississippi Habitat for Humanity trip, said that part of the selection process was seeking out a broad range of students, and his group ended up with students from every class and school represented.

Raymond Shiu, the program director of the Center for Social Justice’s Research, Teaching and Service department responsible for overseeing the ASB program, said in an email that ASB is designed to give students the opportunity to make a difference during their spring break.

“I hope that the participants will be deeply affected by their experience and are inspired to seek more ways to incorporate what they’ve learned into their time at Georgetown and beyond,” Shiu said.

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