The Rise of Spring Break Volunteerism

April 19th, 2013 1 Comment Other


Teens are volunteering more frequently than adults, according to a recent survey prepared for World Vision by Harris Interactive.

The survey found that 56% of young people now volunteer to support a charitable cause compared to only 46% of adults.  Additionally, 92% of teenagers agree that it is important to volunteer locally.

The trend seems to have extended into higher education as well, and reports show that an increasing number of students are spending their spring break volunteering rather than lounging on a sunny beach or partying with friends.

Hundreds of students from Howard University in Washington, D.C. used their time off this year to perform community service in seven cities across the country, while students at the New Jersey Institute of Technology spent their spring break helping recovery efforts after hurricane Sandy in an alternative spring break program.

“After Hurricane Sandy, NJIT established a new Center for Resilient Design to help communities recover as well as promote more resilient design solutions,” says Thomas G. Dallassio, Resilient Design Manager at the New Jersey Institute of Technology.  

“NJIT had sent students and faculty to New Orleans after Katrina, and knew that the Spring Break experience would work here [as well].”

Dallassio explains that NJIT’s Resilient Design Program is based on three pillars of learning: applied research, experiential learning and civic engagement. As a key initiative of the Center, a new program was created to build on these pillars and to enable students and faculty to gain valuable experience.

“This generation of students is very motivated by service, in a way that I haven’t seen before. [There is] a tremendous interest among students in volunteering, especially during their break,” he says.

“When we started talking about this idea, students had already been donating time in communities to help organizations and individuals recover from Sandy. They were excited about the possibilities, and helped us connect with organizations that needed help.”

So what is motivating this generation of students to spend their free time in more meaningful ways?

Social media may have played a role in the increase of spring break volunteerism. The Harris Interactive survey found that the majority of young people (55%) said that social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter have made them more aware of the needs of those around them.  

Experts also believe that recent natural disasters such as well as the economic downturn have caused students to reconsider how they spend their time off.

“I believe that this generation has seen, through 9-11, Katrina and other tragedies, the power of people working together for a common cause,” says Dallassio.

“Because we get information in an immediate and visual fashion, and NJIT students in particular as architects, engineers and others are in tune with technology, we all feel the pains of those who face tragedy.

We at NJIT are revising our focus as well as approach to learning by providing opportunities for experiential learning. And, through civic engagement programs such as the Alternative Spring Break, we enable students and faculty to give back to our communities in a way that is meaningful. I believe this is a model that will continue to grow in use and value at campuses across the country.”


Marianne Stenger is a London-based freelance writer and journalist with extensive experience covering all things learning and development. She’s particularly interested in the psychology of learning and how technology is changing the way we learn. Her articles have been featured by the likes of ABC Education, The Huffington Post, Lifehacker, and Psych Central. Follow her on Twitter @MarianneStenger.

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