Alternative Winter Break With NOAHH

Though they do not number quite as many as Alternative Spring Break (ASB) volunteers, the students (and faculty) who spend their winter breaks with NOAHH still manage to do impressive work. Like ASB, Alternative Winter Break (AWB) is organized through universities and colleges around the country. At most schools, like Ohio State University, the two are handled by the same organization. Meena Mihalski, one of the trip leaders with Buck-I-Serv, the student-run service organization at Ohio State University, spoke with NOAHH about their trip this January. With a long history of volunteer experience, she has joined both AWB and ASB. Though the spring break volunteering program attracts more students, neither winter nor spring break service had a greater allure to her.

“I was not drawn to one ASB/AWB project more than the other,” she said. “I just love volunteering and OSU’s Buck-I-Serv program, as well as traveling and meeting new people!”

Many universities and colleges offer many options for alternative break trips, with a focus on locations that offer a variety of experiences for the volunteers, allowing them to explore new locations and learn from them. New Orleans has naturally been a focus of many trips, especially after Hurricane Katrina created greater need and brought more attention to the city, and much like spring break volunteers, students find the city to offer more than the well known highlights, as the holiday season often brings family-oriented events as well as a parade or two, with early January being the start of Carnival season.

Beyond the allure of the host cities, students are often drawn by the chance to bond with other students. With Buck-I-Serv’s random lottery system, students often get teamed with new faces. Mihalski’s first forays into volunteerism were motivated by wanting to meet people and forge friendships, but her experiences went beyond that.

“When I was a freshman, I was very shy and did not have very many friends. I had always wanted to travel but I was so introverted and did not know where to begin,” she explained. “I decided to apply to do an Alternative Spring Break trip to Newark, NJ/NY area, where I met some of my closest friends and made memories in the city and with kids in the preschool I worked in. This even pushed me to choose a career path of education, due to the impact these children had on me… I love serving because of the new people I meet and stories I hear.”

After finding both her new educational focus and new friends with her previous experiences, it became part of her life.

“It does not even feel like service sometimes, because I love what I do,” Mihalski said. “I plan to continue serving over as many breaks as I can in the future. The memories are insurmountable and the feelings last a lifetime.”