Students share ‘transformative’ experiences of Alternative Spring Break

As Spring Break comes to an end this weekend, more than 180 Northeastern students who spent the week volunteering for a range of work and and service projects in 11 states and five countries around the world will return to campus.

We spoke with three of those students who this week are working at an animal sanctuary in Utah, an organic farm in Puerto Rico, and for a nutrition services program in Georgia. In one-on-one interviews, they discussed their Alternative Spring Break experiences and why they are so passionate about volunteerism.

Once I got to Northeastern, I realized how much you could learn not only from the service, but also by working alongside people from different cultures and communities.”
—Phoebe Finnegan, S’17

Alternative Spring Break is an immersive living and volunteering experience, during which students tackle social issues such as disaster relief, animal care, and sustainable food growth through meaningful action. They also engage with the culture and history of the community they are working in.

Phoebe Finneran, S’17


Courtesy photo

Phoebe Finneran is interested in nutrition services, so it’s not surprising that she signed up to work with Open Hand, a nutrition service and education program in Atlanta that prepares meals for low-income people and those with disabilities.

“I am very interested in nutrition and especially the different problems people may face in getting food today,” said Finneran, a biology major.

In addition to the service component, Finneran said she enjoys ASB because of the chance to see different parts of the country. She’s also participated in ASB service projects in Utah and Louisiana.

“Once I got to Northeastern, I realized how much you could learn not only from the service, but also by working alongside people from different cultures and communities,” said Finneran, who plans to go to medical school. “ASB is a great opportunity, especially if you don’t have the time during the school year to do service work.”

Dan McKenna, S’16


Courtesy photo

This year marked the second time that Dan McKenna has served as an ASB coordinator, a role in which he works with the staff at Northeastern’s Center of Community Service to plan the trips and ensure that everyone has a successful week.

“ASB is transformative,” said McKenna, who is studying environmental science.

This year McKenna is taking part in one of the more popular ASB trips, working at the Best Friends Animal Society, an animal rescue organization in Utah. McKenna has also participated in ASB at the Central Vermont Humane Society and the Maine Organic Farmers and Growers Association. And it was because of ASB that McKenna was able to secure a co-op at the Maine organic farm.

“In Vermont, the organization was able to train all of its employees for two days because we were able to cover the shelter,” McKenna noted. “It was nice to see the clear benefit to the organization with us being there.”

Lauren Azzola, S’18


Lauren Azzola, fifth from the right, with Northeastern students on Alternative Spring Break in California last summer. Courtesy photo

Another place where students can see the immediate impact of their work is at GRID Alternatives in California, where the Northeastern group is working to help provide solar panels to low-income families.

Lauren Azzola, an environmental studies major, participated in that service project last year and was ecstatic about the unique opportunity.

“I’ve been on a roof installing solar panels, and that is something I never thought I would get the opportunity to do,” said Azzola. “And then I went on co-op (at the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center) and worked on solar rebate programs and I could say that I know the system.”

This week, Azzola is volunteering at the Plenitud farm in Puerto Rico where she is working on a waste water management system, among other tasks.

And it’s experiences like these, Azzola said, that prove people should volunteer more, as well as seeing the difference it can make in someone’s life, like with the young children Azzola has spent time with at the Dorchester YMCA.

“You just get to do really cool things,” Azzola said.