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[media-credit name="Heather Gray" align="alignright" width="300"][/media-credit]Instead of partying, working, or doing homework during spring break this year, eighteen Weber State University students traveled to San Diego as part of a service-learning mission for the Community Involvement Center.
The service mission was called Alternative Spring Break. The trip is taken annually and provides students with the opportunity to travel to various locations and serve in foreign communities for an entire week.
“The main focus this year was to learn about immigration issues,” said chairperson Heather Gray. “We were able take a tour of the border with the border patrol and learn about different policies and the procedures they have there.“
As chairperson, Gray’s responsibility was to organize the trip and perform all of the background logistics involved in the planning process. She started preparation for the trip as soon as she received the student leadership position at the beginning of the spring semester. She used an organization from California called Via International to arrange housing, food and the service excursions while residing in San Diego.
“Everything went smooth while working with Via International,” Gray said. “They were a great organization to work with.”
To be a participant of the trip, students went through a competitive application process that included a submission of an online essay and an in-person interview.
“We had about sixty people apply and were were only able to select seventeen of those people to come with us,” Gray said. “We chose the applicants who could benefit the community, and also where the trip would benefit them in their life.”
Gray said she felt bad that they could only take a limited amount of students.
“I’m hoping in the future to have more opportunities for these ‘alternative trips’ during fall or winter break,” Gray said. “I’m hoping for different times throughout the school year and not just over spring break.”
The group traveled to San Diego in three vans that were provided by the University. They joined forces in Cedar City with students from Southern Utah University and planned beforehand to work together for the week.
Their home-away-from-home was a Catholic church called Qunita-De Guadaloupe. They made the classrooms their bedrooms, slept on top of cots, and woke up each morning to the smell of breakfast provided by the in-house chef.
Gray said one of the highlights of the trip was going to a place called Southwest Key. It’s an organization that houses minors from the ages of 12-17 who have crossed the border and have been apprehended by the border patrol. Since they are minors without family, they cannot be deported to their home country and are in a kind of legal limbo.
“We were able to go and do a gardening service project with them,” Gray said. “We also played soccer and just got to know them. It was really neat, and it was my favorite part of the trip.”
Julia Darley, a first-time participant of ASB and a WSU senior, said the orphans now have a special place in her heart.
“The kids were a lot of fun,” Darley said. “It was really cool to be able to hear their stories and know that someone is not dramatizing it. They are kids and are just telling you, ‘I came here because a coyote was paid $1300 dollars to smuggle me in.’ It’s not like an activist is trying to downplay their stories; it’s from the source.”
Other service projects during the week included a gardening project at Crawford High School, planting trees at a community organic farm called Wild Willow Farms, a mural restoration project at Chicano Park and joining a group called Border Angels to drop off water jugs randomly throughout the desert to save the lives of many immigrants.
Madison Lemelle, another first time participant and a junior at WSU, said the trip exceeded all of her expectations and encourages everybody to apply next year.
“The week really changed my perspective on a lot of things,” Lemelle said. “I was able to meet so many great people. I actually came back and applied for a position in the Community Involvement Center. It made me want to get involved again because I had so much fun.”
Gray said that ASB is a great way to get involved at WSU. She said that all of the participants meshed well together and had a great time.
“It was awesome,” Lemelle said. “I would definitely encourage other people go because it was the best week of my life.”