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Forget the Jello shots: For many independents, spring break is about doing good

Spring break is here! It’s time to ditch the books, forget your troubles and party down. And by “party down,” we mean serve others and maybe build some sustainable homes.

It’s true. Forget what you’ve heard. For many nowadays, spring break looks a lot more like this than this


Sure, sun and the tropics have their appeal. But others are following their own muse. They’re going off the beaten path. Instead of making messes, they’re making the world a little better with Alternative Spring Breaks.

The programs increasingly are popular at Michigan’s top 15 independent colleges and universities, where unconventional ideas are cherished and cultivated. Some programs are sponsored by groups. Some trips travel abroad. Others work in inner-cities. All strive to do a little more than see who can drink the most Jello shots.

At Hope College, students in the Engineering without Borders Program spent spring break working on a sustainable water program in Kenya.


At Madonna University, senior Shannon Dusute helped lead efforts to feed the homeless and HIV/AIDS patients in Baltimore with United Way, Break a Difference and Food and Friends.

“You could tell they were very grateful,” Dusute says. “You don’t know if that’s their only income of food.”


Other efforts are closer to home. Spring Arbor University in March worked at shelters in nearby Jackson. Marygrove University students tutored elementary students in Detroit and worked at a shelter, while Hillsdale College students stayed near campus last year to volunteer at the Salvation Army, play with pre-schoolers, shovel roofs and serve as reading tutors.

“While many college students head out to some warm beach to party for their spring break, these students are giving up that opportunity to … serve our town each day,” an organizer said. “How cool is that?”

There’s a lot of awesome to go around. Albion College students this year are working at a Jewish farm. Siena Heights University students last year went to New Orleans to paint houses, plant gardens and help with the ongoing rebuilding effort after Hurricane Katrina. Olivet College students traveled to Perryville, Ark., to volunteer at the Heifer International Ranch that provides livestock to developing countries worldwide.

The opportunities are growing as well. Alma College offers several programs throughout the year. For spring break alone, students could volunteer in Selma, Ala., work on immigration issues in El Paso, Texas, build wheelchair ramps in Tennessee or pitch in at the St. Vincent National Wildlife Refuge in Florida or Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky.


The University of Detroit-Mercy offers a similar number of what it calls “immersion trips” that allowed students to demonstrate the “physical” and “spiritual works of mercy.” Past trips have included volunteering in Washington, D.C., Arizona, West Virginia, Chicago and Detroit.

The trips are one of many differences at Michigan’s top 15 independent colleges and universities. They’re smaller and emphasize community over crowds. Often less expensive than public institutions, the independents boast higher four-year graduation rates and smaller class sizes for a truly unique and affordable experience.

Be bold. Be different. Go independent.