Instead of soaking in the Florida rays last week, 20 University at Buffalo students made use of their spring break by preparing lunches for the Buffalo City Mission and collecting 200 pounds of garbage throughout the Queen City.
In UB's third annual Alternative Spring Break, selected students got the opportunity to give where they live and volunteer for seven local charity organizations.
"It's a very traditional spring break where we live together and eat together," said Terri Budek, community engagement coordinator for the Center for Student Leadership and Community Engagement.
However, the not so traditional part of ASB is that students are also volunteering together for 15 hours a day.
"We're doing [work] for the Buffalo City Mission, Vive la Casa, Women and Children's Hospital, Junior Achievement, Habitat for Humanity, Buffalo ReUse and Catholic Charities," Budek said. "Most people love it, but I don't think they expect it to be as intense as it is."
Budek and one other coordinator joined 18 participants and two team leaders last week to reconstruct houses, help the homeless and give back to the place they all currently call home.
"We tried to get as diverse of a group as we could from different majors and different backgrounds," Budek said. "We get a lot of international students partly because they don't have anywhere to go over spring break, but also because these kind of experiences are not available in their own countries, so they want to get as much of them as they can while they're in the States."
The program also attracts a number of local students, according to Budek, who believe they haven't performed enough service in their hometown.
"Some volunteers who are from Buffalo didn't know these [organizations] existed, so it's an eye-opener for them, and I think once they see the need, they're very happy that they could help in their own backyard," Budek said.
To make the experience as meaningful as possible, the students were given daily orientations at the organizations they would be lending their hands to, learning what resources they provide to the community and why they are needed.
The group slept on mattresses in Goodyear Hall and explored the city of Buffalo during their much-needed down time. Their work was rewarded with a trip to Niagara Falls, a guided tour of City Hall, tickets to a Sabres game and a bowling and movie night.
On day six of ASB, the coordinators prepared a Thanksgiving dinner for the volunteers to show their gratitude for the group's tireless efforts.
David Molina, a senior biomedical sciences major, said that though he was volunteering, it was he who was thankful.
"I can honestly say this was one of the best experiences I've had at UB," Molina said. "Most students in college, I feel, see the break in March as an opportunity to do things that benefit themselves and not the community in which they live in. Doing volunteer work and making a difference in the Buffalo community has really made an impact on the way I view certain aspects of life."
Ankita Kale, a sophomore environmental engineering major, said seeing the way many Buffalonians live put things in perspective for everyone.
"Interacting with the children, teens and refugees made us realize the conditions they come from and are currently in. Their stories [brought] tears to our eyes and made us more sensitive towards people and life," Kale said.
And according to Budek, one of the most surprising things for students at the end of ASB week is always how close they get to the people they didn't know existed just days before.
"When we first entered Goodyear, it seemed like The Real World [on MTV]," Kale said. "But we were all very cooperative and considerate of [each other]. We did a lot of good work and put our best efforts into whatever we did. All in all, I would say that I had the most amazing spring break, and I am thankful to the CSLCE for giving us the best days at UB and the best of friends."