In search of community service and learning, almost 100 Bowdoin students spent their Spring Break across the United States and in Guatemala participating in this year's Alternative Spring Break (ASB) program.

The diverse trips ranged from working with migrant workers in Florida to volunteering in schools in New Jersey.

While 145 students applied for ASB, the number of spots available for each of the eight trips was limited.

"It's a challenge because more people apply every year, but we have reached the capacity of the number of trips we can offer," said Assistant Director for Community Service Programs Sarah Seames.

The trips are student-organized and each is led by two student leaders. According to Seames, this year's trips tended to focus on education and children.

The only international trip this year was to Guatemala. It was led by James Anderson '10 and Jamie Nadeau '10, who were both participants on the trip during their sophomore year.

The Guatemala group worked with the organization Safe Passage, founded by the late Hanley Denning '92, and volunteered in schools to learn about the impact of poverty on education. From paper mache art projects to visiting a water park, the group was able to interact alongside the children to entertain them outside of their usual classroom routine.

"It was a chance for the kids to think and learn a different way because the education they have down in the public schools is very poor," said Anderson.

"The organization has grown a lot in the two years that we've been there," said Nadeau. "They've added new facilities and new programs and it was really amazing to see that tangible growth in such a short period of time."

Three new ASB trips were introduced this year and took place in Tennessee, South Carolina and Florida.

The Tennessee program, led by Josh Magno '11 and Matthew Gannon '11, worked in Maryville, Tenn. with a Cherokee community to learn about sustainability.

For the South Carolina trip, the Education Department worked alongside leaders Lindsey Thompson '10 and Elyse Terry '11 to help with planning. The group traveled to Charleston, S.C. to work with urban and rural schools. They observed classes, met with faculty, and helped students with various projects.

"Just being in the schools and getting a chance to talk to the students and see the ways in which we can connect with them even though we come very different backgrounds and different education histories was really powerful," said Thompson.

Alex Reed '10 and Elaine Tsai '10 led the trip to Immokalee, Fla. to work with migrant workers. They worked with a wide variety of groups, from homeless shelters to childcare centers.

"The coolest part about our trip was how we weren't going in there to do a specific project," said Tsai. "We went in there wanting to know how much as we could about the community and do a wide range of activities."

"It was a lot more about us learning from the people we were working with," said Reed, "and the only way to learn as much as you can is to work with all these different organizations even if it is just for a day. You obviously aren't covering everything, but you can try to get as many different perspectives as possible."

For the District of Columbia trip, Krista Bahm '11 and Loretta Park '11 focused their trip on issues of hunger and homelessness. The participants volunteered in soup kitchens and food banks.

"Our trip was unique in that we spent considerable time volunteering, but also met with Senator [Olympia] Snowe and [Susan] Collins' policy advisors, and Representative [Mike] Michaud himself to discuss relevant policies," said Bahm.

Nandini Vijayakumar '10 and Helen Pu '10 led the trip to New Mexico, which worked with La Vida Mission School in a Native American community.

"We spent our days helping kids with their daily assignments and science projects," said Vijayakumar. "We also played with the kids during recess and taught them some Bowdoin-style dance moves."

The trips to New Jersey and New York both studied urban education while also working with students.

Julian Leung '11 and Hasan Elsadig '10 led the trip to Camden, N.J. The participants worked with Urban Promise Ministries, which is a Christian-based organization that provides educational services to children and young adults.

"Over the week, we helped demolish the school's basement for future renovation, organized a fundraising yard sale, and wrote press releases," said Leung.

The trip to New York, led by Niko Pilibosyan '10 and Connie Chi '10, worked with a public elementary school in the Bronx and the Harlem Children's Zone. During the day, they helped teachers and volunteered at after-school programs, and at night, discussed issues such as poverty and class, said Pilibosyan.

"I hope we changed lives and inspired people we worked with," said Pilibosyan. "However, I suspect that the children we interacted with changed our lives to a much greater extent."

"Our biggest focus is having a balance of service and learning," said Seames. "We want to have valuable service that is really addressing a community need and the same time we know we are only there for a week. Hopefully these trips will lay a foundation for them to be involved in service work in the future."