A Different Kind of Break

From mentoring to roof repair, UT spring break trips offer an alternative experience

Published: Mar 28, 2011
A group of students spent their spring break in Knoxville, TN, where they worked with the Knoxville Leadership Foundation, repairing a roof for an elderly woman with Alzheimer’s disease.
A group of students spent their spring break in Knoxville, TN, where they worked with the Knoxville Leadership Foundation, repairing a roof for an elderly woman with Alzheimer’s disease.
Shahana Ansari ’11 was looking for a way to expose her peers to social injustice through direct service.

So she turned to the PEACE Volunteer Center and helped lead an alternative break trip to the Crossroads Group Home in Greenville, SC, where she and a dozen UT students worked with girls from 11 to 17, most of whom had been abused and/or were juvenile delinquents.

“I hoped this experience would allow each of them to return to campus with a new perspective and inspire them to continue working toward a just world,” said Ansari, a psychology major with a minor in sociology.

After driving the van from Tampa to South Carolina, and spending the week working with girls who had been physically and sexually abused, you’d think Jennifer Del Valle ’03, M.S. ’08 would need a vacation.

But the associate director of the Academic Center for Excellence said she came back from her alternative spring break trip feeling refreshed.

“I would do it again,” she said. “I would recommend it to anybody.”

Del Valle said many of the girls in the home were older teenagers who wanted to go to college.

“Most of them probably won’t make it to college, but we talked about how you can be that one person, even though we just tutored them for one week,” Del Valle said.

Ansari said these types of trips leave a lasting impression, both on the participants and those served.

“At the very least, alternative breaks participants return home with the realization that those of us fortunate enough to take trips like these have a responsibility to help our world solve the most destructive problems,” she said, describing a tearful goodbye with the residents when the trip was over.

Heather Ptak ’12, the other student coordinator, said it was her 11th alternative break trip, but it was a whole new experience.

“It truly did make an impact and makes you appreciate your family and what you have,” she said. “I think we had a great group of students who are going to bring awareness of domestic violence back to the UT campus, which is what alternative breaks are all about.”

Tim Harding, director of the Office of Career Services, went with a group of students to Knoxville, TN, where they worked with the Knoxville Leadership Foundation, repairing a roof for an elderly woman with Alzheimer’s disease.

“It was hard work, and work that most of us had never done,” Harding said. “I think when all was said and done, and we went back to the house and looked at the roof, there was a real sense of pride and accomplishment.”

When it rained one day, the group went to Second Harvest Food Bank in Knoxville where they labeled pallets of beans and made them available for shipment.

“I had a chance to interact with the students in a different way than I ever would in the office,” Harding said. “I actually did a lot of career counseling on the way up and the way back, talking to the students about their dreams and hopes for the future, having a conversation about life. It takes it out of the context of sitting in a formal office, and puts it up on the roof of a house.”