SOU students do good works during 'spring break' efforts

While most college students will embrace the freedom of spring break with traditional visits home or road trips with friends, two groups of Southern Oregon University students will be volunteering their time with service organizations.

This "alternative spring break" is offered by SOU's Civic Engagement Program every year, drawing in students who want a taste of social involvement.

"We found over the years that students really enjoy having something meaningful to do over spring break," said Brittany Depew, environmental and community engagement coordinator for the Civic Engagement Program.

The alternative break typically takes students to different areas in Oregon, Washington and California, although three international trips have been held in past years.

This year, 15 participants, including two staff supervisors, will take trips from March 24-30. One group will go to Portland and work with eight different service organizations that benefit domestic and wild animals, including an emergency pet food bank and a wildlife refuge.

A second group will travel to Dexter to work with Lost Valley Education Center. Their focus will be on landscaping and beautification while learning about sustainable living and permaculture.

The 2013 trips are closed, but the program is working to offer service trips beyond spring break.

"If a student goes, they'll be back again next year," said Sophia Mantheakis, hunger and homelessness alleviation coordinator for the Civic Engagement Program.

Last December, an alternative winter break trip traveled to San Miguel de Escobar, Guatemala. That trip drew so many applicants that the program was forced to turn people away. It was the third time the group had traveled internationally, following a Guatemala trip in the spring of 2012 and a Dominican Republic trip in the spring of 2011.

Though the trips were successful, Depew said students wished they had more time than a short spring break allowed. The program is now looking to organize longer trips over winter and summer breaks.

"You can only get so much done when you have five days during spring break," said Depew, explaining that travel times reduce hands-on work time.

The program will hold a "mini-break" May 17-18 with the organization JOIN in Portland. That trip, which will explore homelessness in the Portland area, is still open for students who are interested.

"This isn't just a one-time thing," Mantheakis said. "You can always do good work; you can always create change."

Trip planning typically begins with a theme chosen by students, such as hunger, homelessness, poverty or sustainability. Program members then search for volunteer opportunities in those topic areas on the West Coast.

"Service work is really fun. It can be anything you want it to be," said Depew. "It doesn't have to be a chore."

"There's always a way you can help for however much time you have available," said Mantheakis.

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Shannon Houston is a Southern Oregon University intern. Reach her at

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