Alternative trips serve communities

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Two service-learning groups — Magnolia Project and Alternative Spring Breaks — are run by students who organize trips during UC Berkeley’s winter and spring breaks. Both are part of the campus Cal Corps Public Service Center.

During the trips, participating students work with community organizations that focus on various social and political issues, such as incarceration, immigration, homelessness and environmental justice.

Magnolia Project was founded in 2006, the year after Hurricane Katrina hit. It partnered with several organizations doing work in the Gulf Coast — New Orleans in particular — and made a 10-year commitment to continue “working in solidarity with Gulf Coast communities,” according to the project’s website.

The Magnolia Project winter service trip is two weeks long and takes place in January. The group also offers eight-week summer internships with community organizations in New Orleans and a semester-long exchange project with the University of New Orleans.

UC Berkeley’s Alternative Spring Breaks was founded in 2001 and currently offers 10 one-week service trips during spring break. While the majority of these groups will stay in California this March, some will travel to Oregon, Mexico, Arizona and New Orleans.

The estimated cost for the Magnolia Project winter trip is $750, according to the group’s website, although exact amounts may change depending on the price of a plane ticket to New Orleans. For March 2013, the price of an Alternative Spring Breaks trip ranges from $250 to $400.

Students of all economic backgrounds are encouraged to apply because financial aid is available. All trips are partially subsidized through grant-writing, and students are required to fundraise.

Both Magnolia Project and Alternative Spring Breaks prepare students for their hands-on service in various ways.

Before the trip, participants enroll in a DeCal facilitated by the trip leaders. The class is meant to educate students about where they will be traveling and the organizations they will be working with. There are weekly readings and assignments and, on occasion, outside speakers are brought to talk to the class.

In addition, the DeCal provides a space for members of the group to talk about their own backgrounds and experiences, to acknowledge privileges they may have and to examine how power structures in society perpetuate inequality.

This space is meant to be safe and inclusive — everyone sits in a circle, and trip leaders do not lecture but instead facilitate discussion.

The diverse range of participants for the Magnolia Project and Alternative Spring Breaks are encouraged to think deeply about how they can work with others who devote their time to fighting injustice and explore what it means to be held accountable in the context of service-learning.