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Spring Break Reality Check

UNLV students skip the party trips and head out to help nonprofit organizations.
Business & Community  |  Mar 26, 2013  |  By Kate Stowell
UNLV senior Monica Garcia is spending her last spring break helping a women's advocacy program. (Aaron Mayes / UNLV Photo Services)

"Spring break" conjures up images of beachtime debauchery and the last days of youthful irresponsibility. But several groups of UNLV students are spending their week off gaining an better understanding of the hardships that others face.

This year, 34 students were selected for the limited number of slots in UNLV's Alternative Spring Break (ASB) programs. The student engagement and diversity office is sending one group to San Francisco to work with organizations serving the HIV/AIDS and gay and lesbian communities. Another group is headed to Los Angeles to work with women's rights advocacy organizations, and the third group is headed to the Grand Canyon to work with environmental organizations.

For the first time this year, the Boyd Law School also organized an trip to Reno, Winnemucca, Carson City and Elko. In just three days, the students will work on a legal aid fair with the Volunteer Attorneys of Rural Nevada, observe the Te-Moak Bands Tribal Court and perform a mock jury trial using the story of Goldilocks for an elementary school -- experiences that don't come from a textbook.

Monica Garcia, a 23-year-old environmental studies major, was one of the more than 100 applicants for picked by lottery for an ABS trip. She is already the campus coordinator for Take Back the Tap, a campaign designed to reduce plastic bottled water on campus. She hopes the trip to Los Angeles will further her understanding of advocacy programs in general.

"ASB gives students an opportunity to see what is going on in the world," she said. "It gives us a chance to see what's going on outside of the textbooks."

Jos? Garcia, the Office of Student Engagement and Diversity's ASB coordinator (no relation to Monica), couldn't agree more. "ASB is all about challenging students, taking them out of their comfort zones and in many cases, making them realize how privileged we all are."

Last year, the San Francisco trip brought up a controversial issue. One of the organizations the students worked passes out safe needle kits to drug users. The program has been effective in preventing the spread of disease, but "and was a big point of contention," Jos? remembered. "We had people who were very uncomfortable and believed this was facilitating drug use, but after the week and many conversations about the goal of this particular program, the students changed their minds completely. This is the whole point of Alternative Spring Break. It takes students away from their everyday lives. It takes them beyond the textbook and it shows them that these hardships are real."

With the law school offering an Alternative Spring Break program, and the Office of Student Engagement and Diversity offering three different trips -- last year they only offered the one program in San Francisco -- 2013 has been a year of growth for UNLV's Alternative Spring Break programs, and Jos? says the program is only expanding and getting stronger.

"These programs are integral to a community like UNLV," Jos? said. "They introduce students to ideas that we probably never considered or never even imagined."

Now his office expanding the trip-based service programs beyond spring break and increasing the number of participants who can participate. At the end of the semester students will have the opportunity to go to Catalina Island, Calif., for a service-oriented trip.

Monica Garcia is just glad she was able to take advantage of one of the trips before graduating. "This might sound really clich?, but I want to feel that connection to the larger community. I want to be more aware of what's happening in the world, and I want to get that sense of common ground as people because we really are more connected than we think.

"I know for so many people, ASB really changed their outlook and left a long-standing impact. I'm really interested to see how ASB affects me and impacts the rest of my life."