A Different Take on Spring Break

UNC student Loren

UNC student Megan Gallegos builds a compost container in the community garden at Little Bighorn Community College during the 2011 alternative spring break trip on the Crow Indian Reservation in Montana. Related: Photo gallery at end of story

Photos courtesy of Lauren Koppel

Last year, University of Northern Colorado student Lauren Koppel spent a week working on an Indian reservation through the university's Alternative Spring Break program, and while she expected to give her time; what she didn't expect is how much she would get back.

"When we entered the reservation, we drove by a park that was totally neglected," Koppel said. "Seeing that level of poverty opened my eyes and gave me a different perspective on access to education."

Koppel, a junior working on a self-designed major in Women's and Ethnic Studies, returned to the program this year as a student coordinator.

The ASB program gives students the chance to give back during their spring breaks through service projects. This year, 29 students will be working with four social issues around the country: poverty and homelessness in Washington, D.C.; women's rights in Los Angeles; elementary education on the Crow Indian Reservation in Montana; and an animal sanctuary in Kanab, Utah.

Ria Vigil, an assistant director in the Office of Student Activities , participated in a similar program at her alma mater and began overseeing UNC's program last year with a goal to strengthen the program for everyone involved so "… in five years, when somebody goes back, they can see what we have done."

"I tell every student not to look at this experience as an opportunity for someone who is better off to help someone who isn't, but to go into this experience to understand what it's like to live as they do," Vigil said.

Koppel can relate to that message. She remembers learning to live on "Crow time," which focuses on building relationships instead of rushing through the day to meet time constraints.

"These trips give a good understanding of self, living in the moment, trusting the process and appreciating the experience," Koppel said. "This is an intense experience but it's an amazing opportunity."

For more information, visit the Student Activities website or contact Vigil by email or at 970-351-1365.

- Elizabeth Same, Senior Journalism Major