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Division of Campus and Community Engagement

Division of Campus and Community Engagement

Breaking Away

Meet several Alternative Breaks leaders who are giving back to communities in New Orleans and South Texas
2024 alternative breaks students
Reporting by Abbie Bard

The words “spring break” conjure up images of sunny beaches and parties galore. But for a group of UT Austin students, this much anticipated week away from school means something else entirely: giving back.

Throughout the week, two groups of students are volunteering with nonprofits and local service organizations in Louisiana and South Texas. We caught up with three participants to learn more about their interests in community service and what they hope to learn from their Alternative Breaks experiences. Go here to view photos from both trips.

Comfort Ajiboye

Comfort AB student

Rather than hitting the beach this spring break, Comfort Ajiboye will embark on her second Alternative Breaks trip—this time in New Orleans, Louisiana. Working alongside her teammates and community partners, Ajiboye will learn about some of the biggest issues impacting vulnerable communities in the Crescent City.

What kind of projects will you be working on in NOLA?

We will be working with our community partners, Lantern Light Ministries and Operation Restoration, on various service projects. One of the biggest issues we’ll be focusing on with Operation Restoration is the school-to-prison pipeline. They help women released from prison get back on their feet, so we will be talking with women and learning about their experiences and the barriers they face when they’re released.

With Lantern Light Ministries, we’ll be looking at food insecurity in New Orleans. They do a lot to address this issue, specifically with the unhoused population. So, we’ll be helping with meal service and also speaking with people to learn more about their experiences.

What excites you the most about this experience?

I’m really excited because this is my first trip to New Orleans, and I look forward to all of the cultural activities, like exploring artwork at Studio B and learning about the history of the systems in place that affect community members. I’m also looking forward to meeting all the community partners and learning about the demographics they’re serving.

Why are you interested in community service?

Growing up, I’ve always loved community service. My mom ran a food pantry at our church, so I’ve always been used to helping out with service projects. Coming into college, I became interested in serving communities outside of my own and learning from them. In the future, I want to work with nonprofits within the community service sector and learn how they work with communities and provide solutions to mitigate the issues they’re facing.

Amara Kwiatkowski

Amara AB student

Meet Amara Kwiatkowski, a Plan II Honors/government senior who is returning to New Orleans with the Alternative Breaks program. In alignment with this year’s theme, “Active Citizenship,” she and her team will work with a local church and a nonprofit supporting women in prison.

What are you looking forward to the most during your Alternative Breaks trip?

I’m looking forward to so many things, but mostly, I’m excited to learn more about a community that’s not my own and also to learn how to become an active citizen beyond just the week of service.

What do you enjoy most about the Community Engagement Collective (CEC)?

The CEC gives us so many opportunities to give back, and it’s a space where I made so many friends. We help each other so much and motivate one another to do the most that we can to make a difference in the community.

What’s next after graduation?

I have a job lined up this summer with the Texas Tribune, and I also plan to get involved with a nonprofit here in Austin before going back to school. There are so many nonprofits in this city and so many causes to care about, so I’m looking forward to getting involved.

Galilea Rodriguez

Galilea AB student

Meet Galilea Rodriguez, a public health sophomore who is about to embark on her first Alternative Breaks trip to McAllen, Texas, where she and her teammates will be assisting a non-profit independent construction company that uses a self-help model to help families build their homes. They will also volunteer at a respite center that provides immigrants with food, clothing and many other resources.

 What excites you the most about this experience?

Because of my family’s immigrant history, I have learned about the difficulties faced by immigrants in the U.S., and I want to use this volunteering experience to better understand immigration. I seek to understand what immigrants may need in terms of resources and to learn how to become a better advocate for them.

What motivates you to do this work?

My grandfather motivates me to do this work. He taught me a lot about service when I was young, and he was able to accomplish a lot in his life. I’m just very motivated to use my privilege and the resources UT has given me to serve others.

What advice would you like to give to others who are interested in service learning?

If anybody ever has an opportunity to participate in a community service trip like this, I highly recommend it! I haven’t even been on an Alternative Breaks trip yet, but this has already been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. I love coming together with other students who all share similar ambitions for community service. We learned a lot from each other before the trip, and I expect to learn so much more while we’re in South Texas. I’m already talking to my coordinators about continuing this work for the rest of my college career.

Visit the Center for Community Engagement website for more information about Alternative Breaks and other community service opportunities.