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Breakaway from “Volunteerism”


Breakaway from “Volunteerism”


Photo Courtesy of Yeats Ye

By: Clara McMichael

Some Southwestern students go to South Padre for Spring Break.  Some go home and watch jealously as pictures from week-long tropical vacations fill their Facebook news feeds.  But there’s a third option: others participate in Spring Breakaway.

2016 was the inaugural year of Spring Breakaway—a program that offers an alternate spring break for Southwestern students.

This year, Spring Breakaway gave thirty-three students the opportunity to spend their breaks volunteering in El Paso, Texas and Atlanta, Georgia. The previous iteration of Spring Breakaway was Destination: Service which took annual trips to the Gila Wilderness Area in New Mexico where students—led by coordinators within the Office of Civic Engagement—participated in wilderness restoration activities for the duration of Spring Break. Spring Breakaway is now sponsored in collaboration between the Office of Religion and Spiritual Life, the Office of Diversity and Education, and the Office of Civic Engagement.  Another change is that the program is now student led.    

“Each destination has two to three student site leaders and committee members,” said Laurie Avery, Coordinator of Civic Engagement who led the trip as a staff member.  “These students work all school year to plan the housing and transportation, choose the community partners, educate themselves and others, and work on being better advocates for social justice issues.”

The Atlanta trip’s overarching theme was social justice and the U.S. Civil Rights Movement.  The itinerary consisted of touring Martin Luther King Jr.’s home as well as the church he taught at, visiting Piedmont Park, Easter Seals Child Development Center, and seeing the Jimmy Carter Museum. The group also went to the Pride School Atlanta—a trailblazing K-12 school that provides a safe learning environment for lesbian, gay, bi-attracted, transgender, queer, question, intersex, asexual, and ally children.

“It’s getting away from voluntourism,” first-year Clay Stehling, member and organizer of the Atlanta trip said. “We’re trying to see how some of the problems Atlanta and El Paso face are similar to some of the problems Georgetown faces, and how we can help the Georgetown community as well.”

The El Paso trip was preceded by a lecture series.  Dr. Patrick Hajovsky, Dr. Melissa Johnson, and Dr. Jethro Hernandez-Berrones spoke about art, environmental justice, history, and activism along the United States/Mexico border. The group spent the last two days camping and working in Franklin Mountain State Park. The trip focused on the ethics of volunteering and immigration, and the importance and impact of change on a local level.