For many University of Kentucky students, spring break is more than a beach vacation

lblackford@herald-leader.comMarch 20, 2014 

Aerial - University of Kentucky Construction

Aerial photo of the University of Kentucky campus taken on Feb. 12, 2013. Photo by Faron Collins

FARON COLLINS

University of Kentucky graduate student Morgan Miller loves a day at the beach, or two or five. But during her time at UK, she's also discovered that there are more fulfilling ways to spend her spring break.

She's spent several of her past vacations on "alternative spring breaks," doing service work in far-flung places like Nicaragua, and closer to home in Eastern Kentucky. On Friday, she finished a week at the David School, a private school for at-risk students in Floyd County, where she and a group of nine other UK students have worked with students, helped with ACT prep, and done whatever else needs to be done.

"It's really multi-faceted experience," Miller said in an interview last week. "We serve a community, we challenge ourselves and we get to meet great people. You get so much more out of it than going to a beach." That kind of experience has become popular enough to warrant a student-led program at UK — the UK Alternative Service Break. It's part of the Center for Community Outreach, started in 2003, which is run completely by students on projects such as DanceBlue, the annual dance marathon that does year-round fundraising and volunteering with UK's pediatric cancer patients.

The program now reaches beyond its name — students can do service trips on winter, spring and summer breaks with about 150 students involved right now, said senior Jason Schubert, who directs the program.

Schubert went to work at a UK-run clinic in Ecuador his freshman year, and now plans all the trips all year.

"Every trip has been life changing and eye opening to the world that's out there," he explained. "You get to help yourself and the community. And it helps students understand they can have a huge impact on the world around them."

This spring break, UK students are also in New Orleans, helping with post-Hurricane Katrina recovery, in Atlanta, working with newly resettled refugees, in Washington, D.C. helping the homeless, in the Dominican Republic, working on basic English skills for children in orphanages, and in Ecuador, where UK operates a health clinic.

The costs range from $400-$500 for domestic trips to roughly $2,000 for overseas, which includes travel, meals and lodging.

This summer, UKASB has organized its first trip for students to Ghana, Africa, where they will work with the Cheerful Heart Foundation, teaching children in a village outside the capital of Accra for two weeks.

Sarah Hermsmeier is the program director for civic engagement at UK, and oversees the center, which also include UK Fusion, the day of service before classes start in the fall.

She said more and more UK students come to school with community service experience from high schools or churches that they want to continue in college. The service helps people, and also helps students in an increasingly competitive and globalized job market.

"Those experiences let students grow and learn in ways that are highly transferable," she said.

UK senior Lauren Henderson went to Washington last year, and is now leading the trip to Ecuador. She's a psychology and political science double major and plans on going to law school next year, but thinks these experiences will help her.

"This way, you know you'll make a difference," she said.

Linda Blackford: (859) 231-1359. Twitter: @lbblackford

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