Community Conquers Cabo

Most students associate “Spring Break” with warm weather, travel away from school and a way to unwind amid a busy spring semester. For some students though, their spring break can be associated with cold weather and helpful hearts.

Every year, Campus Auxiliary Services (CAS) offers Alternative Spring Break, an opportunity for a handful of SUNY New Paltz students to help out the New Paltz community during the school’s spring break.

During that time, students from various groups on campus come together to help out local charities and organizations such as New Paltz Youth Program, Mohonk Preserve and Burningtown MakerSpace, among others.

The program is in its fourth year and is headed by Service Learning Coordinator Erica Wagner. Wagner said since its inception, the program has proven itself to be a good program.

“We have a small handful of students who spend their entire spring break serving the community,” Wagner said. “We’ve been funded by CAS since we started and they’ve continued to do so, which shows that this is a good program that provides a great service not just to the community, but for students as well.”

Wagner said she usually receives 20 applications for 12 spots per year. The application includes eight essay-styled questions. After that, perspective Alternative Spring Breakers are interviewed for a spot on the Alternative Spring Break team.

Wagner doesn’t have a specific idea in mind for her team going into the interviews, but what she does do is look for a diverse group of students who will complement one another.

“When picking a group to participate in Alternative Spring Break, I’m looking for a group that comes from different years and majors,” she said. “It’s difficult to describe perfectly, but I’m looking for a group I know is going to work well together and come together.”

One of the group’s two student leaders, second-year secondary education major Maria Gillen, said the diversity of the group helps to bring them all together and helps group members come out of their shells.

“I’m really excited to have been named a mentor for this year’s Alternative Spring Break,” Gillen said. “What’s special about the program is that when you join, these are a group of people you’ve never met and likely would have never met if you didn’t do the program. Everyone gets to know one another so well and the bond we form is special.”

While the volunteer sites haven’t been finalized yet, Wagner said one of the most popular trips the group takes is to Rondout Valley Animals for Adoption. She said the group responds so well to the trip because while they are giving back to the community, they take personal gains from it as well.

“A lot of the students who participate in the program have their own pets at home,” Wagner said. “Most of them really miss their pets while they’re away at school, so this trip gives them an opportunity to help them fill the void of not having their pets.”

Applications for Alternative Spring Break are due on Friday, Dec. 13.