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Alternative Breaks brings Meaningful Service to Devastated Puerto Rico

There’s something different about Berkeley students.

We’re hungry for more, to go above and beyond — we’re never satisfied with business as usual. An institutional manifestation of that supererogatory drive for excellence is the Public Service Center (PSC), which celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2018. Students in PSC programs develop personal values, leadership skills and robust personalities while serving their communities in myriad ways. Some programs, such as Alternative Breaks (Alt Breaks), even extend beyond the limits of the semester, surpassing traditional expectations of what it means to serve.

Alt Breaks redefines spring break by combining social justice education in a DeCal with meaningful “service-learning trips” to communities around the country. When students return to Berkeley, they are impassioned to give back to their communities using collaborative knowledge developed both inside and outside the classroom. And they forge their own relationships, too — there’s nothing like rebuilding a church to build a friendship.

This year, Pablo Paredes Burgos and Rosa Enriquez will lead the first trip to Puerto Rico in Alt Breaks history. Co-leaders Pablo and Rosa hope the trip will lead to a decade-long commitment, like Project Magnolia in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. For Berkeley students, the immersive service-learning model is an optimal incubator for tomorrow’s social justice and environmental leaders.

“Alt Breaks puts students in a leadership role through every step,” Burgos said. “Identifying a social issue, imagining a meaningful response, building a partnership with communities on the ground that respects their leadership, and carrying out a collective vision. This kind of leadership experience is priceless.”

A far cry from voluntourism, these trips impart deep knowledge of social justice issues by synthesizing community wisdom, real-world leadership experience, and in-depth classroom education.

In September 2017, Hurricane Maria wrought catastrophic destruction upon the already financially beleaguered island of Puerto Rico. Consumed by “the Trump Show,” American politics soon forgot the plight of its largest unincorporated territory, despite the fact it’s home to more Americans than 20 states. The upcoming trip will immerse students in Puerto Rican history, culture, and socioenvironmental issues in a post-devastation context as they work with community members and organizations to build support and solidarity.

The best part of Alt Breaks, said break leader Selena Pérez, was the community. In her eyes, Alt Breaks was more a “family” than a program, noting that she met several future housemates through the experience. This is not an uncommon feeling. Cassy Huang, Program Manager for Alt Breaks, said that “oftentimes, people refer to moments in their trip as just ‘unforgettable’ and ‘transformative.’” After a semester of passionate education and teambuilding, a weeklong trip to an unfamiliar location cements lifelong friendships.

Alt Breaks participants headed to Puerto Rico will take home their experiences and reopen the Berkeley community’s eyes to the ongoing reconstruction efforts and the need for action. “Alt Breaks gives participants the opportunity to use their power to be a megaphone for what underserved communities want and need,” said Rosa.

Alt Breaks is open to all and is equally enjoyable and meaningful whether your student is a senior ready to lead or a first-year looking to do more for their community. Your student may choose between six different trips covering issues from immigrant rights to food justice. Challenge your notion of spring break by signing up for a 2020 Alt Breaks trip!

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Older couple with younger man with donated items

Pablo Paredes (right) and Camila Ruiz (not pictured) visited the island last March. There, they purchased much-needed supplies for Puerto Rican communities.

people working in garden

Alt Breaks have gone to Puerto Rico multiple times to prepare for the trip and strengthen ties with community organizations. The most recent visit was earlier this month (January).

Debris from hurricane

Despite reconstruction efforts, much of Puerto Rico is still devastated. In August 2018, Governor Ricardo Rosselló requested $139 billion from Congress for reconstruction projects.


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