Instead of soaking up the sun’s rays on a beach, some Stony Brook University students are pursuing constructive alternatives to their spring break by participating in retreat programs that will help them develop skills such as leadership, critical thinking and an understanding of the importance of community service.

This is not exactly an isolated phenomenon; states that “30,000 students opted for community service instead of a traditional vacation” through Break Away, a non-profit organization that helps students organize service projects.

The Alternative Spring Break Outreach from SBU went to Joplin, Mo. last year. Photo Credit: Community of Awesome
The Alternative Spring Break Outreach from SBU went to Joplin, Mo. last year. Photo Credit: Community of Awesome

One program that offers such an opportunity is Stony Brook’s Alternative Spring Break Outreach (ASBO), a student-run program that prepares undergraduates for a meaningful service experience designed to help strengthen communities that have been struck by unfortunate circumstances.

Past trips have included Pensacola Beach, where students aided relief efforts following the oil spill that beleaguered the Gulf Coast’s shores; New Orleans to assist in community outreach; and Joplin, Mo., to assist in removing debris after a devastating tornado that wiped out many homes in the area.


“Part of the trip this year is making it more then just spring break. We’ve started to become more active throughout the whole year,” Emily Torkel, a senior psychology and sociology double major and the program’s vice president of internships, said.  “We planned a few trips with the university and got two buses to Mastic Beach,” where ASBO helped in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy by helping to clean out homes.

“Our three major things seem to be disaster relief, community outreach and environmental conservation,” Molly Vallillo, a junior English major and vice president of fundraising, said.  “Once you get somewhere when you can assess what people need, you may go in thinking you know what to do, but they might say we really need your help with this.”

This past fall, it was announced that ASBO would be heading down to Biloxi, Miss., and returning to New Orleans, where it will continue its efforts of serving stricken communities.

Another program on campus that offers students an opportunity to contribute their time to a greater cause is The Global Brigade.  There are five chapters of this program at Stony Brook: medical, water, public health, environmental and architecture.


The Water Brigade is just a few weeks away from travelling down to El Paraiso, Honduras, with the aim of providing the community there with a cleaner water supply.

Once the students arrive, they will work side-by-side with members of the community to take the necessary measures needed to improve water conditions.

“It takes several brigades to accomplish the goal; the water is dirty, inaccessible, and negatively impacts health.” Varin Parakkattu, the campus chairperson of the Global Brigades at Stony Brook, said of the type of work students do when they finally reach their destination.

According to the Water Brigade’s website, students may work on a variety of projects that include building piping systems, working on a water treatment station and various other infrastructural projects.

Not only will members help build a source for cleaner water, they will also take part in educating the residents about water hygiene and sanitation in hopes of eradicating the illnesses that currently plague the water supply.


“We are looking for students who are passionate about international development; you’re not going to have the usual comforts to accommodate yourself,” Parakkattu said.  “It’s an enriching experience.”

Even though the cost of going on these trips may be steep, Parakkattu explained that for what you get out of it, it’s worth it.

“The thing that is different about this program is the size and sustainability, if you want to have a long term impact into the future, join the brigades, there’s no other comparison,” Parakkattu said.

Vallillo echoed similar sentiments in reference to her experience with ASBO.

“Altruism is never something that I don’t enjoy, you really get as much as you put into it,” Vallillo said.  “It’s great coming back and being able to share the experiences you had and hopefully inspire people to show a passion for helping others.”

The medical brigade will be departing this summer for its yearly excursion, and will be holding a gala on Tuesday, Feb. 26 to help raise money for the trip.


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