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University Students Trade in their Textbooks for Shovels and Rakes for a Week of Alternative Spring Break

Posted 03/19/2015
Posted by David Isgur

Alexa Keener (’16), one of 38 students working as a volunteer in the ongoing rebuilding efforts in New Orleans during Spring Break 2015, had been looking forward to this opportunity since last year’s Alternative Spring Break program ended.

“Last year, I didn’t really appreciate the experience until the end. So I was excited to go on this trip, and start it in the right frame of mind – that is, soaking in every minute of how great this opportunity is,” said Keener. She noted that almost half of the people on this year’s Alternative Spring Break trip, which is annually organized through the University’s Center for Community Service, are veterans of these adventures.

Jerrique Robinson ('17) and Marianne Sayamath ('17) clearing up space to plant a tree at the Audubon Nature Institute.

Torshia Maxwell, assistant director in the Center for Community Service, says that about 80 students applied for the 38 spots on this year’s Alternative Spring Break trip.

Here’s what the students signed up for: a 26-hour bus ride each way to and from Hartford and New Orleans; work days that begin at 6 a.m. for a communal breakfast and a primer on that day’s assignments, then out at a work site from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m.; and team bonding activities each evening. There's one-day of sightseeing in New Orleans, said Maxwell, with a stop at Cafe Du Monde for its world-famous beignet pastries and chickory-flavored coffee and dinner at Café Maspero for some traditional Cajun/Creole food.

While Keener is excited about seeing and experiencing some of what New Orleans has to offer, her real excitement is about the opportunity to help people. “Working together as a group if fun, and it’s so rewarding to see the results and the impact on the people there,” she said.

Keener enjoys interacting with the residents in the areas where they are volunteering. “I really like to see and meet the people that we’re helping.”

Click here to see a photo gallery of the students’ volunteer efforts during days one and two of Alternative Spring Break; and click here for a photo gallery of activities on days three and four. Also, check out the photos on the Center for Community Service's Facebook page.

Alexa Keener and Devyn Kangas and the rest of the University's Alternative Spring Break team on the bus on the way to their assignment.

The University’s students assignments are organized through Camp Restore, which is also where they are sleeping and eating during their work week. They work both indoors —helping to restore a local church—and outdoors—planting trees and cleaning up walking trails. (Camp Restore was created after Hurricane Katrina. Find out more at

Since she already knew about 25 students going on the trip, “it’s fun going a trip with some of my closest friends,” Keener said.

She would love to see the program grow so that more students could participate. “It’s a nice break, doing physical labor and getting your head out of textbooks for a week,” she said. “It’s a real mental vacation.”