Students volunteer their spring break to make a difference

Cornell College students are using their spring break to make a difference through volunteer work.

This year, Cornellians are spending an intensive week at three locations, dedicating their time to support the mission of ending hunger at Feeding South Dakota in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, building inclusive and just communities with Kansas Appleseed in Kansas City, Missouri, and supporting animal welfare at Crane Trust in Wood River, Nebraska.

Sophomore Jakob Orel is a co-coordinator of Cornell Alternative Breaks. The computer science major from Minden, Iowa, helped select the spring break destinations. 

“We choose the locations for the trips based on different social issues affecting different communities,” Orel said. “We work closely with community partners to ensure the service is direct and beneficial.”

Orel also helps train and prepare the student leaders for each trip. Madeleine Koenigsberg is one of those student leaders. She’s leading the charge for the trip to Kansas City. Her group has been meeting to discuss their priorities and to prepare for the fieldwork they’ll carry out to promote awareness about Medicaid and Medicare. 

She knows their work will make a difference.

“It’s about doing something to free up resources, and I hadn’t realized that until going on the trip to the Ruth Ellis Center, an LGBT+ homeless youth center in Detroit, Michigan, last year,” Koenigsberg said. “People think that community service is all menial labor, and it can be, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t valuable. By doing service, you’re freeing up the resources of another person. I’m not knowledgeable enough about how to advocate in court for someone, so if I can help free up that person’s time by registering people for Medicaid, then I will gladly do so.”

The English major from Conifer, Colorado, says she looks forward to helping people and bonding with students who sign up to go on on the alternative break trips.

“The people who signed up and are going are passionate about community service,” Koenigsberg said. “Some people I know from classes or extracurriculars, but some people you have no clue about! It’s amazing how many try to do good through alternative breaks, and I’m determined to make sure the trip is meaningful and a blast.”

Student smiling for photo on a bridge in Puerto Rico
Cornell students on the alternative break trip during winter break. They went to Puerto Rico to help restore ecosystems following a hurricane.

Orel, who went on an alternative break trip over winter break to Puerto Rico, and Koenigsberg encourage all students to participate in an alternative break opportunity. 

“Students should get involved in alternative breaks because it is an incredible way to get involved in meaningful service and have a great weeklong experience that you will remember after your college career,” Orel said.

And these students know they aren’t the only people who will always remember this trip. The people on the receiving end are always grateful too. 

“Any time you can donate to helping others is always time well spent,” Koenigsberg said.

Each participant pays $125 to go on the alternative breaks and groups fundraise to cover any remaining costs. That fee covers travel, housing, meals at the site, a T-shirt, and site fees or donations. Student Senate provides the remaining funding needed for each trip, which is more than half of the cost.