Michael Sauer, Senior Business Administration Major, Serving Others During Spring Break
Furman University junior Michael Sauer, second from left, spent his spring break doing conservation work in the Florida Everglades with the Student Conservation Association. / Erika Baker / Student Conservation Association
Upstate students use their spring breaks to serve, learn
By Lillia Callum-Penso
Michael Sauer was psyched for spring break this year. After
months of nothing but business courses, the Furman business
administration major was ready to take a break from the computer and get
into nature. But the weeklong vacation was not a break from work.
Though some of his friends opted to lounge on beaches across
Florida, Sauer spent his spring break, March 5-9, cleaning trails,
removing invasive plant species and building new trails in the
Everglades through the Student Conservation Association, a group that
promotes environmental stewardship by engaging young people. “I wanted
to experience something different,” said Sauer, who last year spent
spring break in Biloxi, Miss., repairing homes damaged by Hurricane
As natural disasters continue to ravage parts of the U.S.
and the president’s call to service resonates, more students are taking a
different approach to spring break. They’re choosing volunteering over
In the five years since the Student Conservation Association
established a spring break program, interest has grown so much that
this year the organization expanded from one work site to two, says
Deirdre Fitzgerald, SCA’s director of communications. The number of
students involved has grown from 60 to 120.
More colleges are participating in alternative spring break
programs, too, says Samantha Giacobozzi, programs director with Break
Away, which helps schools develop such programs. In the past five years,
Break Away has added 30 more college chapters, including one at Clemson
University, to its roster for a total of 150. And last year, students
donated more than 1.4 million service hours to Break Away projects over
the six weeks of college spring breaks.
“It’s a small group on each campus,” Giacobozzi said of
participants. “But it’s certainly making its mark, and I think as more
students go and more students find out
This year, 22 Clemson University students took part in Break
Away trips, although many other alternative spring break trips are
offered through other campus organizations as well, said Jennifer
Shurley, associate director of civic engagement at Clemson.
College students have always been service-minded, says
Shurley, but now with more organized alternative spring break programs,
there are more opportunities for students to get involved.
“Institutions have caught up,” Shurley says. “So we’re maybe a little more organized now.”
Clemson pre-med student Garrett Kent wanted to help people,
so he signed up to volunteer with the 43-year-old Appalachia Service
Project during his break. The group targets rural poverty, mainly by
building and repairing homes for those in need. The day after Kent
returned from the trip to Chavies, Ky., he sounded understandably tired.
But there was a noticeable trace of energy in his voice, too.
“I’m still processing it,” Kent said.
The Due West native spent the week in Chavies repairing
homes and building handicap ramps — eight hours a day for five days. But
upon reflection, Kent says, he doesn’t really see the time as work. “If
I wasn’t doing this, I probably would have gone home and worked for my
parents,” he said.
“I’d rather be doing this.”
And in some ways, Kent, a senior, sees it as a chance to
think about his career ambitions. He plans to volunteer at a free
medical clinic next year when he attends the Medical University of South
Carolina in Charleston.
Brewer Eberly also had his career in mind when he signed up
for the University of South Carolina’s healthcare service learning trip
to Belize March 3-11. The USC junior debated only a short time about
whether to go on the volunteer and educational trip or to return home to
Greenville to spend time with family.
The experience was like nothing he’d ever done before. But a
week after his return, even as Eberly couldn’t name his favorite part,
he was certain of its value.
“Pre-med students typically get a bad rap, and we earn it
because we don’t have any marketable skills,” said Eberly, who went on a
mission trip to Greece last spring break with Reformed University
Fellowship. “So we’re trying to kind of fake that we’re doctors and
realizing we’re not yet and we don’t know anything except Organic Chem
In Belize, Eberly and his fellow students spent two days
traveling into local villages and taking health assessments of people.
The students then spent two days operating a free health clinic where
they met with patients, took vital signs and medical history and
basically, said Eberly “practiced what we’d learned.”
“It’s funny because I can’t think of anyone on the trip who
would word it that we ‘gave up’ our spring break,” Eberly said. “If
anything, I gained more than I could possible imagine.”
But alternative spring break trips are not just about
forgoing a lounge chair on the beach for a hammer in the mountains. In
Giacobozzi’s mind, as more students develop and foster a service spirit,
alternative spring break is becoming less, well, alternative. Instead,
the idea of a service- centered vacation is the first choice.
“Break Away’s vision is a society of active citizens,”
Giacobozzi said. “The community becomes a priority in your values and
life choices. So we see alternative breaks as this powerful experience
that is a catalyst; that will make you come back and think differently
about the world around you.”
Sauer, a junior, is already eyeing possible summer volunteer
opportunities, and he is thinking about the future in a new light. He
will make sure, he said, that whatever direction his post- college life
takes, service and nature will be a permanent part.
“Just seeing how much impact people have on the national
parks and how much of a need there is for conservation,” Sauer said with
conviction. “I think it really changes your perspective on a lot of