By Staff Reports
(Victor Valley)– A group of 16 Cal State San Bernardino students returned from a week-long volunteer service trip to Alaska with renewed inspiration and commitment to serve in their own Inland Empire communities.
CSUSB’s Alternative Break Program provides a unique opportunity for students to participate in an intensive public service experience while increasing their understanding of significant social and environmental problems. Engaged in direct service related to these problems, students live and work in communities with which they otherwise would have little contact.
The program’s main goal is to expose and educate participants about the root causes of community issues, while also making an immediate difference in the excursion’s respective communities.
“Going on the service trip to Alaska was such an enriching experience,” said Janelle Doyle, a CSUSB second-year biology major and President’s Academic Excellence Scholar. “One second we’d be floating on our backs down a canyon river, the next we’d be putting up the walls on a house for a family who needed it.
“Then we’d be off to a museum, sea life center, or research facility to learn about Alaskan native heritage, and how hard Alaskans work to preserve culture and marine life,” said the San Bernardino resident. “There was never a single moment where I didn’t feel like I was gaining a new appreciation for something and how just a few hours of volunteer work can go a very long way,” Doyle said.
Bryant Fairly, associate director of CSUSB’s office of Community Engagement said that the immersion experience could serve as a springboard for a lifelong commitment to social change. “We chose Alaska for the service trip because we wanted to remove students from their comfort zone and expose them to new environments and cultures,” said Fairley.
The service projects included three days in Anchorage serving food to the hungry at Bean’s Café, and exploring and preserving cultural artifacts at the Alaska Native Heritage Center; two days in Homer assisting researchers at the Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies with data collection on marine debris and human impacts.
Other projects included making clay kits for the education and outreach department at the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward, and build a rural home with Habitat for Humanity in Kenai.
But the students also balanced their service work with fun, recreational activities, including kayaking at Peterson Bay, cycling the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail, whitewater rafting, a dinner cruise to Bear Glacier and a hike to Table Top Mountain.
The 16 students were hosted by two CSUSB alums, Alex Weis (B.A. political science, 2012) and former Coyote soccer player Chelsey (Jones) Weis (B.A. liberal studies, 2014), now married and living in Anchorage. The students were:
Undergraduates Jesy Amaro, communications; Marlyn Amaro, liberal studies; Carley Bennecke, theater; Estefany Cobian, psychology; Alexandria Crespo, math; Brandon Dover, graphic design; Janelle Doyle, biology; America Farias, biology pre-med; Alex Gordon, business; Felipe Jimenez, accounting; Donal Martinez, criminal justice; Alexis Rascon, economics; Edith Soto, marketing; Sierra White, studio art. Graduate students David Dysart, industrial/org psychology; and Kennedy Van Houten, special education.
Preparation for their service trip included obtaining background and cultural information about the service sites. In addition, the students volunteered locally at the Helping Hands Pantry in San Bernardino as an introductory team service experience.
After returning to campus, students work together to educate the campus about their service experience and the importance of community engagement.
In addition to Fairley, accompanying the group were CSUSB leaders Shannon Stratton, executive director, Associated Students Inc.; Mark Oswood, outdoor programs coordinator, Recreational Sports; and Natalie Cleary, assistant director of Student Leadership and Development.
“This was an amazing experience for our students to celebrate the unique beauty of Alaska while also discovering many similarities between Alaska and the Inland Empire,” said Fairley. “From devastating wildfires, earthquake preparedness, poverty and the higher rates of unemployment, our students answered the call to serve and returned with a renewed perspective of the beauty within the Inland Empire and an increased commitment to serve and leave their paw print on our campus and their local community.”