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Looking for a spring break with purpose

Cross-Cultural Solutions’ Insight Abroad program in Ghana

For most college students, spring break is a chance to get away from it all and indulge in some personal time.

But this week, more and more New York City college students will join thousands of students across the nation in various service-oriented trips, from rebuilding homes ravaged by Hurricane Katrina to tutoring orphaned children in the Dominican Republic.

“There are a lot of people who are really socially aware and active and want to make a difference,” said 21-year-old Elizabeth Stephens, co-chair of New York University’s Alternative Breaks advisory board. “It’s about what you get out of the trip and how you integrate it into your daily life.”

NYU’s Alternative Breaks program has grown by leaps and bounds since its inception in 2001, particularly with respect to international service trips. Because of increased demand for service-oriented trips abroad, NYU added two new programs in Portugal and Ghana this year and is looking to start offering trips to India, Thailand, and Uganda.

In the wake of the recent natural disasters in both Haiti and Chile, Fordham Law’s Disaster Relief Network has planned a trip to Cabaret, Haiti, to aid children affected by the earthquakes. “We hope to do whatever we can to help the children get their minds off of everything that has happened in the past few months,” said Matthew Putorti, 26, of Hell’s Kitchen, a second-year law student who was going on the trip this week.

But the trend hasn’t just been limited to just New York students. According to Break Away, a non-profit organization which works with 150 colleges across the U.S. on alternative break programs, the past six years have seen alternative-break participation increase by 10 to 15 percent, including a 20 percent jump this year.

“The best programs are the ones that look at complicated issues in their communities,” said Jill Piacitelli, executive director of Break Away.

Meanwhile, volunteers are excited to lend a helping hand in a location they otherwise wouldn’t experience.
“You get to go somewhere, but you’re also helping out,” said two-time NYU volunteer Rachael Stewart, 21, who is spending this spring break rebuilding homes in New Orleans. “It’s the best of both worlds.”

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