Spring Break Saviors.

Here’s my story that I worked on for the [X]Press Magazine. Very diverse and life-altering. Check out the article at: Spring Break Saviors.

Spring Break Saviors
by Chris Huqueriza, copy editor
April 17, 2009 10:13 AM

Anyone who’s spent time in the throes of academia–from kindergarten kiddies to college super seniors–knows what spring break is. For those of you who’ve been living under a rock, it’s the annual hiatus from homework and other academic hullabaloo for students to relax, recover, and unwind. And for many members of the MTV generation, it’s also the predetermined time for exotic traveling and extensive debauchery. But if lounging around with bottomless Long Islands (and co-eds) isn’t exactly your idea of a good time, maybe you should consider your “alternatives.”

For many students, an alternative spring break is a time of reflection and giving back to the community, any community. Amor Ministry, a Christian organization dedicated to building houses for the unfortunate in Tijuana, Mexico, is one of the many in San Francisco that promotes the idea of an alternative spring break.

“There’s the assumption when students tell their classmates that they went to Mexico for spring break to party. ‘Did you get wasted?’ Actually, no,” Dave Barry, director of Amor Ministry, laughs. This year, they plan to build five houses. The houses are nothing luxurious, like those of Kimora Lee Simmons or “Brangelina,” but they are created with a solid foundation, four aluminum exterior walls, a solid roof, and are weather resistant–with no leaks.

This year’s trip was set for April 5 to April 9 with a total enrollment of sixty high school students and thirty-five adults, four of which are college students. “Last year, we had twenty-five college students,” Dave Barry said, pointing out the sudden change in attendance. “Many of the spring breaks didn’t line up.”

In addition, the escalating war amongst drug cartels has become a big concern for students and parents alike. But those worried about safety can rest assured. “I’ve had five phone conversations with parents about safety,” Dave Barry said. “But we’ve amped up the security this year. Luckily, the violence resides in urban areas while we are settled in rural [areas].”

And good news for the cause-minded, yet frugal, spring breaker: Amor Ministry’s alternative spring breaks are karma and budget-friendly. For high school students, the expense is $800, while college students receive a discounted price of $500, in light of the leadership roles they are expected to take. Not bad for an international kindness binge with your buddies.

For those looking to stay local, there are many organizations that enable alternative spring breakers to find something productive to do right here in the Bay Area. Here in San Francisco, volunteer work is always right next door. Take, for example, the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy.

The conservancy has been around for over twenty years, and this year they organized a spring break cleanup in the city. During the last two weeks of March, The Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy brought in students from UC Irvine and Chico State to clean the streets of San Francisco.

Like the alternative spring breaks organized by the Amor Ministry, those of the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy are also affected by the fact that the spring breaks of many colleges and high schools don’t intersect.

But Cody Fyotek, senior volunteer coordinator at the conservancy, finds some silver lining in that phenomenon. “The breaks don’t line up, so we’re able to spread the work,” Fyotek said, with a sign of relief in her voice. “It’s very nice to accommodate both groups. They’re very enthusiastic.”

For an entire week, the student volunteers participate in a variety of work from landscape production and native plant nursery to trail maintenance. “We have many students do habitat restoration,” associate director Denise Shea said, pointing out some of the many diverse activities they can do. “There’s no age necessary, we provide the tools, just provide the proper clothes.” For anyone wondering, the proper clothes are: hiking shoes, long pants, and rain gear. All Cody can say is “prepare to get dirty.”

In addition to Amor Ministry and the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, the San Francisco AIDS Foundation is a national organization with a strong volunteering system in the Bay Area. The Foundation began with the emergence of the AIDS crisis in 1982. Now, it runs the largest needle exchange in the country with the help of a wide range of volunteers, including spring breakers. “Many of our volunteers bag syringes and nail stickers in condoms,” said Debra Holtz, a Media Relation representative of the AIDS Foundation.

None of the three organizations need to advertise themselves to gain collegial volunteers: Web traffic, student word-of-mouth, and longstanding connections with high schools and universities help spread the idea of the alternative spring break.

In the past five to seven years, there’s an increase in social work,” said David Barry. “With homelessness and devastations like Hurricane Katrina, it’s more acceptable. You can’t go and not be affected.”


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