ST. GEORGE — Spring break — every college student’s favorite time of year, typically celebrated by going on an elaborate vacation to the tropics, or at least spending time in the sun.
Last year, college students celebrated spring break by locking themselves indoors and sanitizing everything. This year, Dixie State University’s Alternative Breaks program offered students the chance to give back to the St. George community in a safe, fun way in lieu of taking a trip. Alternative Breaks, a program that functions under the Student Association’s service branch, provides service opportunities over school breaks for students who might not have other plans and want to travel and give back to local and global communities.
Alternative Breaks usually travels overseas during spring break, but over the past two years, that has not been possible. Holly Hurtado, Alternative Breaks coordinator, told St. George News that instead of traveling, she chose to make a week of service and found places around town that needed help with different service projects.
“It is disappointing that we can’t go out and help, but St. George has so many service opportunities,” she said. “It was exciting to get to stay here and do so many different service projects rather than just one big one.”
Throughout the week, rain or shine, the group has helped with landscaping outside the Taylor Health Science Building on campus; pulled weeds and picked up trash outside the St. George Dinosaur Discovery Site at Johnson Farm; cleaned a waterway near Red Cliffs Mall; cleaned garden boxes at Switchpoint; and helped Give Your Land a Hand pick up trash at Bearclaw Poppy Navajo trailhead.
Last year, Dixie State’s spring break was the week after businesses and schools shut down in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Alternative Breaks had planned two trips to Colombia and the Bahamas but both were canceled. Vice president of service Katy Johnson was supposed to go on the Bahamas trip, and although it was disappointing to not be able to go, she said this year’s activities have made spring break feel like a vacation despite the circumstances.
“I know, for me, it’s definitely felt like a break,” she told St. George News. “I’ve been feeling overwhelmed, and coming out and serving and hanging out with so many cool people has really lifted my spirits and made me feel ready to go back and finish the semester.”
This year, with vaccines just beginning to be distributed, some college students want to take advantage of the opportunity to get out of town, but others are still wary, Hurtado said. For students who are unable to travel, Alternative Breaks gives them something to do other than sit at home.
“Those kids who already did plan on having a trip, I’m not gonna deter them from that because they’ve been stuck here for a year now,” Hurtado said. “But for those who are here, this gives them something to do. It’s a good way to make new friends.”
She said she’s noticed this school year has been particularly hard on freshmen.
“But this week I have seen a lot of people talk to others that they don’t know.”
Alternative Breaks usually takes 10-15 students per trip. Students have to pay a fee for the trip, which varies in cost depending on the destination, but the program is able to cut down the cost through community fundraising. This year, Hurtado said she didn’t do any community fundraising because it seemed like everyone was already struggling enough, and there was no trip to pay for.
Approximately 25 students have signed up for projects this week, she said, but some days have been more popular than others.
Hurtado asked all students to wear masks whenever possible and said the group has been able to be outside most of the time and maintain social distance.
The university encouraged all students to use safe practices over spring break whatever their plans, including wearing masks and maintaining social distance. Dixie State will be conducting highly encouraged student COVID-19 testing all next week after students return to campus to help mitigate the spread of the virus, spokeswoman Jyl Hall told St. George News via email.
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