For many, spring break is a time just for fun.
While that was true for a group of University of Wisconsin Oshkosh students last month, the fun came with an altruistic twist.
A crew of nine UW Oshkosh students took part in the annual Alternative Spring Break service trip. This year’s adventure organized by Reeve Union took them to El Progreso, Honduras. The group—which also included Missy Burgess, associate director for student involvement—left Oshkosh March 18 and returned March 25.
The students worked with the Organization for Youth Empowerment (OYE), a community-based nonprofit that creates opportunities for young people to empower themselves and transform both their lives and their world.
Yingyakia Vang, a senior human services leadership major from Oshkosh, called the experience “life-changing.”
“The connections that we made with the people, the laughs and the memories will always remain with me,” she said. “Everyone was extremely nice and positive. They gave me a different perspective on life and made me grateful for what I have. I am thankful to everyone, especially Reeve Union, who helped put this trip together and OYE for accepting us into their wonderful space.”
In Honduras education is a privilege—less than half of ninth graders have the opportunity to finish high school and only one in seven high school graduates has access to higher education. OYE provides scholarships and capacity-building programs to help break the cycle of poverty for their students.
The UWO students spent their week painting a mural at a school, learning about the Honduran culture and connecting with the local residents.
Alternative Spring Break has been an annual occurrence for years at UWO, although this is the first international trip since just before the pandemic in 2020.
The trip also came during a busy and memorable spring for many students. Hartland native and junior biomedical science major Zach Zirgibel, for instance, competed in the national indoor track and field championships in Birmingham, Alabama a little more than a week before. Desiree Horan, a junior social science education major from Appleton, traveled to New York City less than two weeks after to participate in the National Model United Nations conference with the UWO team.
Trevor Bartel, a graduate student studying information technology management, said his favorite parts of the week were playing soccer with some of the locals—a common interest between the people in North and Central America—and taking a ride into the mountains to get a glimpse of the daily lives of the people in the area.
“I think a very touching part of the trip was being able to connect with the students,” Bartel said. “Though most of us don’t speak Spanish very well, we were able to figure out other ways to communicate with the students and find activities to do together with them.”
The Titans also had a beach day—complete with warm ocean water, palm trees, white sand and a view of the mountains. That “perfect day” was one of the many highlights of the trip for Katie Leverenz, a senior accounting and finance major from Chilton.
“It was awesome to get to immerse myself in the culture and get a more authentic feel for Honduran life than if I were just a tourist on vacation,” she said. “I loved getting to eat homemade meals in the homes of the OYE staff and family. It was a beautiful experience.”