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Alternative Spring Breaks offer a different kind of vacation
STANFORD -- Not every Stanford University student will spend the Spring Break week of March 21-27 catching up on sleep, eating home-cooked meals or partying at the beach.
Some will be talking to residents of San Francisco's Tenderloin, bedding down at a homeless shelter in Pasadena, shadowing mental health care workers in Napa, Calif., or meeting with youth community leaders in nearby East Palo Alto.
In fact, more than 90 Stanford students will be participating in "alternative spring breaks," designed to teach them about specific social and environmental issues through service activities and meetings with activists, policy makers, and service providers.
Sponsored for the past five years by the Haas Center for Public Service, Alternative Spring Break Service Learning Projects attract students who wish to expand their horizons beyond the college campus.
No prior service experience is required - just a commitment to spend the week-long vacation engaging in direct service and learning through personal experience.
This spring, interested students could choose from among eight different projects: Homelessness in the Bay Area, Homelessness in Los Angeles, Environmental Issues, Native-American Cross-cultural Exchange, Youth in Action in East Palo Alto, Asian-American Community Issues, Outdoor Education, and Mental Health Issues.
Students in the Bay Area homelessness project, for example, will begin with tours of Oakland and San Francisco's Tenderloin district, followed by overnight stays and service at the Santa Clara Living Center, St. Anthony's Padua Dining Room, and the Ecumenical Hunger Program in East Palo Alto. They also will meet with Jean Mariani, homeless program coordinator for San Francisco Mayor Frank Jordan.
The mental health project will take students to the Napa State Hospital, where they will interact with the mentally ill and meet with doctors and administrators, while the Asian-American community project will allow students to work with a diverse range of people in San Francisco's Chinatown.
Other students will work with young children for a week at the San Mateo County Schools Outdoor Education Camp in La Honda, participate in neighborhood improvement projects in East Palo Alto, spend time on a Zuni Pueblo Reservation in New Mexico, or in the Mojave Desert, doing field work and data collection.
Before each project begins, student coordinators will provide participants with relevant background materials and an orientation session. Participants are expected to contribute a small amount to cover project expenses, although financial aid is available to students who need it.
The Alternative Spring Break experience has inspired many students to become more involved in service once they return to campus. The student organization SHAC (Stanford Homelessness Action Coalition) arose from the first Alternative Spring Break project on homeless in 1989.
"Even though I was exposed to depressing facts and situations," remarked one Alternative Spring Break participant, "I saw a lot of positive work being done and began to see how I can make a difference."
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