Students spend spring break serving others

Alternative Spring Break

UIC members of Alternative Spring Break worked at the Red Fern animal shelter in Dresden, Tennessee, during winter break 2013.


While many students use spring break as a time to relax, members of UIC’s Alternative Spring Break student group will spend the week helping others.

During the week of March 23, more than 60 UIC students will travel to help out at the Georgia Conservancy; Academy Prep Center of St. Petersburg, Florida; Community Servings and Pine Street Inn in Boston; Mammoth Cave and Central Kentucky Riding for Hope in Kentucky; and Hope Lodge in St. Louis, Missouri.

Allyson Joyce, president of UIC’s Alternative Spring Break chapter, is volunteering with Central Kentucky Riding for Hope. The organization helps children and adults with special physical, cognitive, emotional and social needs through therapeutic horseback riding.

“One student told me, ‘You’re here, spending a week of your free time to help us,’ and they were just amazed by that,” said Joyce, a senior in nursing.

Although Joyce was afraid of horses after being bucked off when she was young, she overcame her fear two years ago when she first volunteered with the organization.

students petting a miniature horse

Joyce (right), with UIC volunteers at Central Kentucky Riding for Hope. “It’s such a great organization,” she says.

“Knowing that these animals have been trained so well by these awesome volunteers that work there just opened my eyes,” Joyce said. “It’s such a great organization.”

The organization also supports the Stable Kids program, which teaches trade skills to at-risk youths, such as high schoolers who were expelled. “They don’t want these kids falling through the cracks of not being able to have an education,” Joyce said.

Usuma Khainark volunteered over winter break with Sunshine Children’s Home and Rehab Center in Ossining, New York. The center provides pediatric care for children with special needs.

“We played with patients and did arts and crafts,” said Khainark, site coordinator chair for Alternative Spring Break and a junior in biological sciences. “Seeing them smile and laugh, it was a lot of fun.”

Khainark’s most memorable trip was freshman year when she traveled to Our Lady’s Inn in St. Louis, a home that provides a safe space for disadvantaged mothers and their children. Volunteers sorted donations, reorganized the food pantry and helped clean.

Khainark recalls speaking to a mother named Lola, who was unhappy with her industrial job but couldn’t quit because she had her children to consider.

“Hearing her story made the trip so much more worthwhile,” Khainark said. “It was hearing the stories of the mothers and hearing how much Our Lady’s Inn has helped them in their times of need that made us feel like we did make a difference.”

In order to keep the cost of each trip at $150 per student, Alternative Spring Break raises funds through bake sales and food stands throughout the year at football and concerts at Soldier Field. Their fundraising efforts were successful — they raised an extra $9,000 for a new initiative, Street Views of Chicago.

Street Views brings together a small group of UIC students to explore a neighborhood in the city, and in the process, meet someone who needs help. “Either with food or just a conversation, they’ll be able to help support them by sharing some of the funding that we have,” Joyce said.

She and other board members of Alternative Spring Break did a trial run last month, exploring Millennium Park. They met Julie and offered to buy her some food. She asked only for fruits and vegetables. Joyce realized how often the homeless aren’t asked about their food preferences. “We can offer people some food on the streets, but sometimes it’s not something that they would want,” Joyce said. “So asking them what they want is very important.”

Street Views of Chicago encourages students to help out and explore locally.

“We do so much across the nation, and we explore those places, but we don’t really explore the city as much,” she said. “So this is something that brings people together to explore the city for four hours, and in the process get to know each other.”

To get involved with Alternative Spring Break, email

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