For most of us, Fall Break is a great time to take a minute away from the stresses in our lives and relax or take a vacation. Some people choose an alternative — Alternative Fall Break, that is.
Every year TeamVOLS, a campus organization that deals with community service, organizes an Alternative Fall Break trip to provide students with the opportunity to use their break to help other people. All the participants are divided into two teams that travel to two different locations and work with a variety of organizations. This year’s teams went to Augusta, Ga. and Birmingham, Al. Both groups left Knoxville on Oct. 11 and returned on Oct. 15.
The Birmingham group worked with organizations such as Habitat for Humanity, the YWCA and the Alabama Wildlife Rescue, to name a few. With so many organizations to help, there was no shortage of things to do. Lauren Zaller, a senior in advertising, was one of two team leaders for the group of students that traveled to Birmingham. She said she felt touched by the people they met from the community.
“When we were at the Boys and Girls Club and the YWCA, we were working with the children,” Zaller said. “At the YWCA, they deal with children that have suffered domestic abuse and violence. Their mothers were living in apartments at the center.”
The other Birmingham team leader was Tim Wesley. The Birmingham advisors were Dave Kennedy and Edee Vaughn.
The Augusta group also worked with a variety of organizations including Ronald McDonald House, Salvation Army Rescue Shelter and the Central Savannah River Land Trust. Becca Regen, a senior in food science and technology, felt it was important that people know what is goTing on behind the scenes. These organizations do a lot more work than it may appear.
One of her most memorable moments from the trip was working with homeless people at Garden Harvest Food Bank and the Salvation Army center.
“The whole purpose of the trip is the service and reaching out to people, specifically helping organizations that may not get a lot of volunteers,” Regen said.
She was one of the team leaders for Augusta, along with Courtney Hubbard. The Augusta advisors were Leslie Shaffer and Anton Reese.
For both Zaller and Regen, this was their second year to be involved with this trip.
“I went on the trip to Roanoke last year. Out of all of my involvement at UT, this has been the best,” Regen said. “You get the chance to meet complete strangers and help in a way that you never got to before.”
After her involvement last year, she was excited to return and be a team leader.
Although Alternative Fall Break is a service trip, it provides a larger opportunity. Both women agree they brought back with them something greater.
“You have a greater appreciation for the blessings that God has given you. (Other people) may not be as blessed as you, and it really puts things in perspective — makes things that are important stand out to you,” Regen said.
Most of the people Zaller and Regen worked with were students who came on the trip. And with all that time spent together, people are bound to become close. Zaller was expressive about the friends that she made during the trip.
“It’s one of the best things because it puts you in a group of people that you would have never met otherwise, and by the end of the week, you don’t know how you’re going to live without them. It brings everybody together,” Regen said.
She said she would fully encourage other students to participate.
“It’s one of the best opportunities that UT has to offer,” she said. “You learn a lot about yourself. You come away with an appreciation for life.”
Zaller said she definitely agrees.
“I would do it as many times as I could,” she said. “It’s something I think everyone should experience at UT. It takes you out of your comfort zone and puts you with people you don’t know. But by the time you’re back, that’s your comfort zone.”
The important thing about community service is that you don’t have to go away to another city to help others. TeamVOLS helps students get involved in service opportunities right here in Knoxville. So, if you don’t have time to make a special trip to another city, you can find a way to help closer to home.
TeamVOLS also hosts an Alternative Spring Break trip. Applications for that trip are available and are due Oct. 27. Applications are located in the TeamVOLS office, room 315A in the University Center.