When spring break comes around, some UB students look forward to one thing: volunteering.
Different from a tropical spring break destination, alternative breaks give students opportunities to provide domestic or international outreach to communities with social issues. These breaks emphasize the important role volunteers play in communities.
UB’s office of Student Engagement echoes this vital experience.
The office, located on the second floor of the Student Union, hosts alternative breaks and days of service and brings volunteerism to a local and international level.
Rachel Di Domizio, community engagement coordinator with Student Engagement, believes in the values volunteering offers students at the university by exposing them to “real-world” challenges.
“Volunteering helps people learn what types of environments they may want to work in, and has lead students to change their major to a field they never imagined,” Di Domizio said.
Leah Nolan, a sophomore mechanical engineering major, became inspired to volunteer by watching her parents give back to their communities. Her father, a volunteer firefighter, strengthened her desire to become one as well at 16-years-old.
“I think that watching my parents do so much for the community inspired me to want to continue on that,” Nolan said. “I stayed involved in student government and the National Honor Society where I helped out my school. I also joined the local fire department, where I am fortunately still an active member there.”
Nolan describes her work with Habitat for Humanity, a volunteer organization that builds homes for communities, as an eye-opener to other issues.
“I lived in the same town my entire life, so in that way I became sheltered to the different kinds of problems that are out there,” Nolan said. “There really isn’t a housing crisis in my town, so working with Habitat opened my eyes to the fact that this is a real problem in other communities.”
Volunteering has benefits of building work experience and connections. In a study done in 2013 by the Corporation for National and Community Service, having volunteer experience increases chances of employment by 27 percent.
Volunteer experiences are impactful for students but at times, costs to attend such programs can be discouraging. To alleviate cost concerns, Student Engagement offers alternative break trips ranging from $155 alternative breaks in Buffalo to an estimated $1,600 international trips.
“That’s a lot of money and I know the price tag can be a very discouraging thing for some people,” Rumfola said. “Most people pay for their own tuition and rent, and they want that money to last. If I was really interested in it, I would dig into looking for a loan or some sort of help.”
Gunnar Haberl, a junior legal studies and political science major, had concerns with the high cost associated with the alternative break to Dominican Republic. His passion for education, however, led him to scholarships and funds that allowed him to attend the program.
“I was in one of those situations where $1,700 was a lot, but UB gives out scholarships to help the cost,” Haberl said. “My family and friends knew how passionate I was about education and I was lucky enough to raise money from them.”
Haberl encourages any students who may not be able to afford international volunteer experience to think of experiences in the immediate area. Volunteering through tutoring, advocacy and food drives are all ways to give back to the community and are needed, Haberl said.
“It’s important to note that you don’t need an alternative break to give back to the community,” Haberl said. “I ran for a seat on my local board of education and won. It’s a five-year seat that I’m committed to volunteer in. We’re in such an important time in education and I knew I needed to be involved to get the changes [in education] right.”
Wanly Chen is an assistant features editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.