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Spring break, with a humanitarian twist

volunteering in costa rica
Alternative Spring Break participants paint as they volunteer in Costa Rica.

Florida-bound Lindsay Weigel and David Barra will spend a lot of time in the sun over spring break next week, but they’re not heading south for the tan.

Instead, they will be removing invasive plant species, cleaning up trash in Biscayne National Park, and keeping their distance from unwelcome Burmese pythons in the subtropical wilderness of the Everglades.

Weigel and Barra, third-year health sciences and biology majors, respectively, are leaders on one of the Alternative Spring Break program’s 15 service projects—10 domestic and five international. For 180 Northeastern volunteers, the annual program provides a chance to spend a week in locations across the nation and around the world addressing important social issues and exploring the culture and history of these communities.

“Each community partner provides such unique, intensive, and transformative service experiences that we always attract a great mixture of new and returning students,” said Kristen Doggett, director of the Center of Community Service, which runs the ASB program.

This year’s projects include camping at the Grand Canyon to complete projects aimed at ensuring the natural landmark’s longevity; tending to animals in need at a sanctuary in Utah; improving low-income homes in Louisiana; tutoring orphaned children in the Dominican Republic; learning about social justice issues firsthand at the U.S.-Mexico border; and helping to preserve the rainforest in Puerto Rico.

Northeastern’s ASB program has experienced tremendous growth since its inception in 2003, when it offered only one project. Over the last decade, the program has developed many new relationships with communities and organizations around the globe, including Tandana Foundation in Ecuador, where students return year after year. Others, like its relationship with the Sloth Sanctuary in Costa Rica, are new this year.

And the students keep coming back for more.

“It’s rewarding each year to find out how many students’ experiences were so meaningful that they have returned to become a trip leader in order to ensure their peers experiences are equally powerful,” Doggett said.

Each project is spearheaded by two student leaders, like Wiegel and Barra, who have undergone rigorous training to lead their group of 10 volunteers. The leaders plan the project, coordinate with site hosts, arrange pretrip meetings, and facilitate group bonding ahead of the yearlong program’s culmination on spring break.

This year marks the first for Barra both as an ASB participant and a trip leader.

“It has a special meaning to me because I believe spending your spring break volunteering says a lot about you as a person—that you’re open to trying new experiences, seeing what else is out there in the world, getting out of your comfort zone, and making an impact in a community other than your own,” he said.

Check back after spring break to learn more about ASB through the Everglades experience. Casey Bayer will be volunteering with Lindsay and David as the group’s university representative and as an “embedded” reporter of sorts for news@Northeastern.