By Savannah Hoag (’19)
Colorado State University stands out among its peers in its commitment to helping others around the state, country, and world. For many students, that commitment doesn’t end during winter or spring breaks. And for at least one alumnus, it turned into a career.
Alternative Breaks (or “Alt Breaks,” as they’re known now) offer students a way to connect with people, places, and cultures that differ from their own in the hopes of developing a well-rounded worldview. That’s what staff members working in the Office of Community Services, now SLiCE, had in mind when they created Alternative Breaks in the early 1990s, according to former director Victoria Keller (B.A., ’79; M.E.D., ’88).
The concept emerged out of a 1989 service trip to the Navaho Nation in Arizona, which sparked interest in other projects. Twenty-five years ago a group of young, energetic CSU students set out for Florida, not for a week of fun and sun, but to help residents recover from the devastating losses created by Hurricane Andrew. Ally Rajnowski (B.S., ’93) was among them. She remembers Keller’s focus on helping those in need without feeling pressured to completely fix the problem at hand.
“Victoria’s emphasis on the service trip was all of the things going into the relief effort,” Ally remembers. “We were in a tent camp and would drive out to the areas that needed (the help) most.”
The trip was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, according to Keller. She still remains connected to the people who spent their break in Florida, thanks to the depth and seriousness of the work they participated in.
“Deep bonds were formed through sharing that time together,” said Keller. “But more than the time, we shared a personal discovery and reflection that there are tough issues that we can’t fix but can still effect in a positive way.”
Ally’s husband, Greg Rajnowski (M.A., ’93), went on that first Florida trip too. He was a graduate student studying anthropology at the time, and the experience ultimately led to a career in the field of emergency preparedness. His background enabled him to share his passion for relief work and motivate others to lend a helping hand throughout the country. He traveled back to Florida after Hurricane Irma this past year.
“He was down there again to work emergency preparedness in the same place, in the same situation, exactly 25 years later,” Ally said. “Greg’s job has been in emergency preparedness through the health department, and his (background in) anthropology from CSU has helped him with his job training in emergency preparedness.”
Service learning trips such as the Hurricane Andrew alternative break have allowed many students to find their identities as global citizens. Keller no longer works in the SLiCE office on campus, but hopes that students will continue to find purpose through experiences that expand their understanding of the larger impact they can have on the global community.
“What I’ve seen and heard is that there is a sense that this can be a catalyst, that (students) want to be more globally engaged and altruistic after going on these breaks,” Keller said.