This article was published in The Appalachian.

When Spring Break finally arrives in March, Appalachian State University students will have the opportunity to visit Atlanta, Ga., Memphis, Tenn., or Jacksonville, Fla. for around $200.

The trips, along with 14 others, will be offered through Appalachian and the Community Together (ACT) Alternative Spring Break (ASB) program.ASB is committed to offering low-cost, service-oriented Spring Break trips to Appalachian students.

The sign-up process is simple: anyone who is interested will have several weeks to stop by the ACT office and pick up a lottery ticket. When a student’s ticket number is called on lottery night, he or she can sign up for any remaining trips.

This year’s lottery is scheduled for Jan. 23, 2011.

Participants are not guaranteed their first choice due to the nature of the lottery system, but domestic ASB coordinator Emily E. Schrecker said it’s rare for anyone to be turned away entirely.

This year, the program is offering 17 domestic trips to a variety of locations across the southeastern U.S. Two students and a learning partner lead each trip. The learning partner is typically a graduate student or faculty member.
The destinations for most trips are within 500 miles of Boone, which is the general limit for domestic ASB, but there are exceptions.

Sophomore advertising major Bridget A. Burke said the trip she’s co-leading to the Bronx, N.Y., exceeds the limit by about 45 miles.

Locations for the trips vary, as do the types of service offered.

Sophomore Hayden H. Wisely and junior Kimberly M. Stepp plan to lead a trip in their chosen field. The two biology majors will travel along with eight participants and a learning partner to Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital in Memphis, Tenn.

“We chose Le Bonheur because we are both pre-med students who wanted to volunteer our time while also learning about the clinical atmosphere,” Wisely said.

Sophomore anthropology major Erin K. Wiedenman knew when she started planning her trip that she wanted to work with children, which led her and her co-leader to select the Murphy-Harpst Children’s Center in Cedartown, Ga. Murphy-Harpst is a center for severely abused and neglected children.

While Wisely, Stepp and Wiedenman had to search for a location, other ASB leaders knew exactly where they’d be going – because they’d been on the trip already.

Senior electronic media major Katie P. Facciola is leading her second trip to Horsecreek Wildlife Sanctuary and Dog Shelter in Savannah, Tenn.

Facciola said she and her co-leader, sophomore biology major Shannon E. Hollander, “both wanted to go back” to Horsecreek.

“We love the staff and the people at the shelter are awesome,” Facciola said.
She added that, when it comes to the abused dogs at Horsecreek, the rewards for your service are immediate.

“You see the impact right away,” she said. “I saw the change in dogs [who] were terrified of people and were able to trust us and play with us by the end of the week.”

Alternative break trips offering similar experiences are a “growing trend” among American universities, Schreker said.

They’re not run by a national organization though, so ASB is different at each school.

Schreker said that at some schools ASB is a club, complete with officers. At others, such as the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, an application is required in order to participate. In many cases, students pay a large sum for their trip.

At Appalachian, though, the cost is always low: each domestic trip is averaged together, so that everyone participating in domestic ASB pays the same amount. Last year, the cost of an ASB experience was $195. This year’s price is yet to be determined, but should be around the same number, Schreker said.

To keep costs low, ASB leaders search for free housing (Wisely and Stepp, for example, will stay in a recreation center) and the groups cook their own meals.

The food budget for each trip is $6 per person per day. That translates into $1 for breakfast, $2 for lunch and $3 for dinner – a typical day for an American living below the poverty level.

“While you’re serving other people, you don’t want to be living a lavish lifestyle,” Schreker explained.
She added that while the budget does require some “pasta and PB&J,” students who go on ASB trips “do it and they do it easily.”

At the end of the day, most students who choose ASB aren’t terribly concerned with what they’ll be eating or where they’ll be sleeping. They’re trying to make an impact on others – and often, they find the trip makes an impact on them.

Emily R. Ausband, a junior exercise science major who’s leading a trip to Jacksonville, Fla., remembers a man she met while on ASB in New Orleans last spring. The man told her about his experiences during Hurricane Katrina.

“When the flood came,” Ausband said, “he got knocked out by something…he woke up and he was in feet of water, just floating. It’s a miracle that he was face-up somehow.”

Ausband paused and shook her head lightly.
“Just to hear him say that,” she said, “that changed how I view life.”