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Students Take an Alternabreak for the Second Year Running

Building community and sustainability: Those are hot topics at Pomona, and the Hart Volunteer Center is no exception. For the second year running, its community service-based Alternative Spring Break program, aka “Alternabreak,” will take students to different parts of California—this time, with more funding, more trips and more students.

The program serves as an opportunity for those with limited spring break options to get off campus and into the community. Amarillys Rodriguez ’11, who will be attending the Los Angeles trip this spring break, didn’t want to stay on campus during break and was attracted to the program because of its mission. “I like the idea that the community service focuses on social justice issues,” she says.

Aside from providing an alternative spring break option, the program’s other goal is to build sustained relationships with various community-based organizations. “We really want to get to a point where we identify some organizations that we can partner with and continue to work with in successive years,” says Maria Tucker, director of the Volunteer Center, “sort of extending the Pomona community beyond Pomona.”

According to Tucker, Alternabreak was the brainchild of the 2006-07 ASPC president, Sarah Kuriakose ’07. Kuriakose donated her $1,600 community service grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation toward the start of the program. This served as a catalyst for an even larger program this year, now with more financial and logistical support from a host of different sources, including the Alumni Association and various academic and student affairs departments.

Community Through Volunteering

When spring break rolls around later this month, students will be heading to San Diego, Los Angeles and San Francisco for service projects centered on the theme of social and environmental justice. They’ll be working with and learning from organizations like Communities for a Better Environment in L.A., Tijuana River Estuary Research Reserve in San Diego, and Collective Roots in the Bay Area, among many other green and school-centered programs. However, the program also recognizes the nature of spring break, so opportunities are available for volunteers to explore local cultural landmarks as well.

All of the trips, funding and transportation are organized by student coordinators at the Volunteer Center. When the coordinators got together to discuss the goals of the trips this year, they looked for organizations that they could work with on a consistent basis. They recognized the politics of doing community work and how it could be a burden for organizations to have volunteer support for only a short term.

“We [thought a lot] about what we wanted to get out of doing work with a community program and how we’ll foster a type of continual relationship,” says Charisse Wu ’08, one of the Alternabreak coordinators. “If it wasn’t going to be a continual relationship, we thought about how we can communicate honestly [with organizations] so that they know we’re here and what we can do.”

Community Through Alumni

In addition to the worthwhile experiences of doing community work, students also benefit from some serious networking as they stay with alumni while away. On one of last year’s trips, Janet Dafoe ’71 invited classmates who lived close by for a potluck with the students who were staying in her Palo Alto, Calif., home. Her husband, Ron Davis, the director of the Stanford Genome Technology Center, also took the students on a tour of the DNA lab. According to Holly Duncan, associate director of alumni relations, he was thoroughly impressed by the students, and this led to talks about working with Pomona professors, as well as bringing some Pomona students to the lab to do research in the future.

Other alumni also did service with the students. While helping out at a food pantry last year, Julia Gleichman ’10 recalled how she got to know some alumni when they came to assist in scooping pounds of frozen vegetables. “Just by talking to alumni and getting their perspectives, we got an idea of what it might be like in the future one day,” she says.

Sustaining Community

Whether it’s the connections built with organizations or those built with alumni, it seems that everyone is working towards the idea of sustainable relations. “This is in line with the College’s strategic plan in moving forward and developing additional substantive relationships with…our community, whether they are local or even distant,” Tucker says. Alternabreak serves as a way to help students bridge the gap between school and the outside world.

“It was good to know the school supported what we were doing,” Gleichman says of last year’s experience. “It was a really positive spring break—I think that was the goal, and it was met.”

As for this year, the students are all ready—waiting lists for the trips filled to capacity within the first hour of sign-ups