“What are you doing for spring break?”


“What's that?”

As one of the 42 students who went on trips to San Francisco (SF), Los Angeles (LA), or San Diego (SD), I know this was a pretty common conversation in the weeks before March 11th to 17th.

Well, according to the Draper Center Programs page,

Alternabreak is a week-long community engagement trip during Spring Break. Students commit their break to volunteering with organizations in the larger community, addressing social issues such as environmental justice, homelessness, and hunger. Coordinators lead three trips each spring, in San Francisco, San Diego, and Los Angeles.

It was a very hectic time in the Draper Center leading up to the trip – student coordinators Sonya & Diana (LA), Jackie & Sarai (SF), and Erika & Praise (SD) (read more about them at the staff page) planned each detail of the week. Trip members participated in “Snackussions,” during which they discussed articles such as “The Limits of Charity” by David Hilfiker and a chapter from Robert Coles' book “The Call of Service.” These discussions helped trip members put their work into context and prepare for entering new communities. Participants returned from the trips with greater insight into the dynamics of these communities, and increased understanding of themselves as change-makers.

San Francisco

The San Francisco trip worked with:

  • Collective Roots - planting trees on school grounds and in the community, caring for school garden at East Palo Alto Charter School

 ”Today we worked at Collective Roots based in East Palo Alto. Collective Roots's goals include increasing access to healthy, fresh food from sustainable and renewable food sources. We worked on tree planting at a local school and in three backyards of local community members. We also worked at a local school's green house. A favorite memory was seeing the transformation: no trees to six trees within three hours. I liked that we had small groups of students accomplishing different tasks (planting, digging, watering) but we also bonded and learned about creating healthy, sustainable food systems collectively.”  -Trip co-leader Sarai Jimenez

  • Arriba Juntos – distributing groceries to community members on site

Palo Alto Almuni hosts (one night): Ron Sege ('79), Virginia and David Pollard ('65), Tanya Buxton ('90), Kristin and Malcolm Meier, Austen Head ('08), Jeremy Frank ('90)

San Fran Alumni hosts: Ben Cooper ('07), Michael Mandelbaum ('05), Matt Bullock ('01), Ian Carr ('10), Dandre Allison ('11), Leah Rosenbaum ('12), Gabie Berliner ('57), Samuel Meehan ('07), Carolyn Spitz ('79) – dinner

San Diego

The San Diego Trip worked with:

  • River Road Farms – weeding and washing pots to get the community garden ready for spring planting
  • Camp Stevens – planting and prepping beds while learning about local and sustainable food cultivation
  • Casa de Amparo – reading, coloring, and playing with children under 5 who have been victims of abuse or neglect

Alumni Hosts: Janet Tung (‘98), Laura Scher Castillo (‘99), Ola Clement (P'14), Julie Kelber (‘99), Joe Gally (‘60), Anastasia Brewster (‘00)

Los Angeles

The Los Angeles Trip worked with:

Union Rescue Mission – LA Alternabreak has worked with URM over the past two spring breaks, and served a dinner shift this year.

Inner City Law Center –  Adam Murray ('93) gave Alternabreakers an introduction and tour of Skid Row to provide them with a better context for the work they did with missions in the area.

Midnight Mission – LA Alternabreak also worked with this mission previously, and served a lunch shift this year

Homeboy Industries – received a tour of Homeboy Industries and ate at Homegirl Cafe afterwards

Los Angeles Family Housing (LAFH) –  tutored, created arts and crafts, and played games with kids at LAFH

Community Services Unlimited –  helped out in their urban garden and publicized Earth Day South LA to the local community by going door to door

Alumni Hosts: Barbara Blankenship (‘62), Jason McDevitt (‘03), Jeffrey Bruce (‘64), Jonathan Erickson (‘03), Ken Hayes (‘87), Tim DeRoche (‘92), Michael Segal (‘79)–Dinner

Thank you to all of our alumni hosts!

In addition to all of these community engagement events, trip members in all three locations enjoyed free time to explore the city, try new restaurants, and get to know each other.  Students were hosted by Pomona College alumni (listed above). One highlight of the week for each trip was the alumni dinner, in which alumni hosts joined trip members for a meal and conversation. Several of the trips visited beaches and cultural areas as a group, and the Los Angeles trip even made it to a Lakers game through a connection with one of the hosts.

So in the week after March 17th, when conversations became…

“What did you do for spring break?”


“What's that?”

I could begin to describe the communities, events, people, and occurrences that made the trip a positive and thought-provoking experience for me.

(Or just enigmatically say, “Sign up next year and find out!”)