August 18, 2019 | 74° F

Students to travel in US for community service

Seventy Rutgers students committed to community service plan to spread across the country this fall and winter so they can make a difference in New Brunswick.

Rutgers University Alternative Breaks, a service organization under the umbrella of Rutgers Student Life, runs the trips, which provide groups of Rutgers undergraduate students with a semester-long experience centered on community service, according to their website.

The organization is offering two weekend trips during the fall semester and seven weeklong trips over winter break, said Nikita Patel, co-president of Alternative Breaks.

“There’s no one particular culture talent that we look for,” said Patel, a School of Arts and Sciences senior. “We tend to look for a well-rounded group that will get along. Often we see that these groups come together so well.”

About 200 people applied for Alternative Breaks’ winter trips. They interviewed 140 and accepted approximately 70, Patel said.

The weeklong winter trips send students across the U.S. to work on a variety of different social issues. Those accepted can travel to West Virginia, Boston and New Orleans, among other locations.

“There’s a lot of reasons why people apply to certain things,” Patel said. “Those who can’t afford it look to stay closer and go on a weekend trip. It doesn’t matter whether you go far or close or what you pay, it doesn’t make a difference in your experience.”

Every group is required to serve the local community when they return from their trip, Patel said. Their experiences teach them to be more effective in their communities as well.

Each trip includes two site leaders and one staff member, who are either full-time employees of the Division of Student Affairs or graduate students in the student affairs program, according to Karen Ardizzone, associate director of Student Involvement and Community Service at Rutgers Student Life.

Site leaders are Alternative Breaks members who choose a location for their trip and contact local service organizations to coordinate on-site activities.

They begin planning their trips in April and May, and are trained by Student Life staff and submit written trip proposals during the summer, Ardizzone said.

Alternative Breaks has to do extensive research and contact community partners, said Christina Kelly, who is co-leading a winter trip to Boston this winter.

“We organize a schedule during which we would be able to work with them during the week we’d be there,” said Kelly, a School of Arts and Sciences senior. “They also facilitate different activities for us to do to help alleviate the problem.”

Kelly’s trip aims to improve the education of immigrant youth in Boston and expose Rutgers students to the myriad difficulties first-generation Americans experience assimilating into a new culture.

“We are working with the Boston Chinese Neighborhood Center [to explore] that education, especially to immigrants, is more than what’s offered in standard education,” Kelly said. “Rather, it’s more of an assimilation process. Everything they do and every interaction they make is a learning experience.”

Kelly’s group will offer assistance to immigrants and their families about how to tailor their resumes, impress potential employers in interviews and navigate the harrowing naturalization process.

Each group’s site leaders determine what service organization they want to work with in New Brunswick and group members participate in community service related to their trip.

Gabriela Slomicz, who is co-leading a three-day weekend trip to Philadelphia in three weeks, said two-thirds of her group’s efforts would consist of manual labor.

“We’re working with an organization in Philadelphia called Urban Tree Connection,” said Slomicz, a School of Environmental and Biological Sciences senior. “In between doing physical work, we’ll be learning about … Urban Tree Connection’s structure and their mission and how they do the work that they do.”

Slomicz, who co-led a trip to New Hampshire during spring break last year, said recruiting participants for a weekend trip was more difficult than doing so for a weeklong winter trip.

Some applicants would rather participate when they are less busy, but weekend trips, which usually involve less travel, are less expensive, she said.

Weekend trips cost $150, domestic driving trips cost $350 and domestic flying trips cost between $450 and $500, according to Alternative Breaks’ website.

The trips’ cost to students has not prevented the organization from rapidly expanding during the last several years, Patel said.

“In the last eight or nine years, we’ve gone from one trip to 17 now,” she said.

By Charlie Melman

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