Alternative Spring Break takes Berks students to Jamaica

WYOMISSING, Pa. — This year, a group of Penn State Berks students will visit Jamaica over spring break, but not for fun in the sun. Rather, they will go off the beaten path with the Penn State Berks Alternative Spring Break program, which will take a group of six students, along with two staff advisers, to Petersfield, Jamaica, where they will spend the week of March 2-9 tutoring and working with children.

The group will work with Amizade, a nonprofit organization that seeks to inspire empathy, catalyze social action, and link diverse communities through Fair Trade Learning

Amizade volunteers have the opportunity to learn about local history and culture; explore the beauty of Jamaica’s urban, rural and coastal areas; and serve with the Association of Clubs, a well-established community organization. Amizade volunteers in Petersfield, located in the heart of Jamaica’s sugarcane industry, stay with local families in homestays, designed to give an opportunity for both further cultural learning and deeper personal relationships.

Participating students chose the type of work they wanted to do for Alternative Spring Break without knowing the location. Based on the group’s interest in working with youth, the option to travel to Jamaica was selected. Students will be working with children ages 4-5 at Service Work School and children ages 9–11 at Coke View Primary School. They also will have opportunities to learn while visiting local landmarks and sightsee during their stay.

Student volunteers include junior Genesis Cruz, of West Reading, and sophomores Valeria Pena Dominguez, of Reading; Lisa Panczner, of Springfield; Emily Seisler, of Temple; Jenna Ulrich, of Oley; and Trent Weister, of Reading. They will be joined by Angela Cuva, assistant director of campus life, and Aubrey Edwards, academic adviser.

For Panczner this is her second Alternative Spring Break.

“I love to travel and experience other cultures," she said. "The Alternative Spring Break provides an opportunity for cultural immersion and service to others.”

When asked why he wanted to join the Alternative Spring Break, Weister explained, “I didn’t have many chances in high school to do community service. As a history buff, the Alternative Spring Break gives me an opportunity to serve while learning about different cultures and their histories.”

Cruz and Seisler both said they are excited for not only the opportunity to serve others but to visit another country, explaining that they have never traveled outside the United States.

The students are enrolled in the hybrid course “Alternative Spring Break–Jamaica” to prepare for the trip. This course covers the island’s history and culture, as well as concepts involving global citizenship and service philosophies.

The Alternative Spring Break trip was organized by Cuva and Edwards, along with Autumn Fritz, assistant director of community development. It is funded in part through the Howard O. and Jean Beaver Endowment for Community Service.

Pena Dominguez commented, “When I see issues, I want to help out. My father always told me to help others when I can.”

Added Ulrich: “I did community service work growing up and it’s a rewarding experience. It teaches you about the world and about yourself.”