Chapman University’s Alternative Break Program is a wonderful opportunity for students to provide helpful services for communities in need. It is an annual program that the Civic Engagement Initiatives arranges for student volunteers to travel to a selected city and learn about a specific agenda.
During spring break several Chapman students traveled to the Grand Canyon to work with the National Park and Fire Management officers. Students stayed in park cabins, attended education sessions with the Fire Management Program and and worked to restore the canyon’s ecosystems.
Student trip coordinator Tiffanie Hoang ’14 volunteered with her fellow Panthers to clear seven acres of the park’s surrounding land. She admitted that it was tough and grueling work, but the team was able to clear what it would have taken one fire officer up to two months to complete.
“We were clearing the forest so that officers could set prescribed fires,” Hoang explains. “These fires would help prevent larger, uncontrollable fires that could have the potential to burn down homes or destroy the Grand Canyon. It is also used to shape the landscape, thin competing species, recycle nutrients in the soil, and opens areas for sunlight to enter. This helps maintain forest health and natural cycles of growth and decomposition.”
Volunteers worked together throughout the week. However, the experience was not all work and no play. Each day students had their lunch breaks at different locations of the park, where they were able to enjoy spectacular views of the Grand Canyon. They also attended daily reflection gatherings where they discussed the lessons and experiences they had that day. Laughter and teamwork also lightened the load, Hoang says.
“We had to drag the logs so far away and it gets really heavy,” she says with a laugh. “So by day two, some people would bring it to a midpoint, and the rest of us would drag it from there. We would also challenge each other with riddles to distract from the work. That was the most memorable moment for me, seeing how quickly we changed from one day to the next.”
Other Chapman volunteers took an alternative spring break trip to San Francisco, where they stayed with The Bay Area Rescue Mission and worked in the homeless youth center.
This summer Civic Engagement is taking students to Kenab, Utah, to work with the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary. (The Utah trip is already full.)
The Alternative Break program is offered to students of all majors three times a year and is an opportunity for volunteers to provide meaningful community service to those in need. Hoang encourages students who want to make a difference, to look for next year’s registration dates.
“Being a part of the Alternative Spring Break was one of the best decisions I’ve made at Chapman,” she says, “and one of the best weeks of my life.”