Though several weeks of fall semester stretch ahead for DSF Scholars at MSU Denver, one Scholar is already making plans for spring break. While his plans do not involve a faraway beach or a mountain excursion, DSF Scholar Eddie Chavez has something even more epic in mind for his time off of classes: a life-changing trip for a dozen of his peers, filled with memories and service to the community.
As student director of the Alternative Break Program (ABP), Eddie helps organize trips that allow his fellow Scholars to step off-campus and into the world of service learning. The program was created out of a partnership between the DSF Leadership Program and MSU Denver. Now, ABP trip offerings have since expanded to include scholarship recipients of the Reisher Foundation and TheDream.US. Unlike a typical fall or spring break vacation, these trips are student-organized and student-led, with the goal of exposing participants to complex social and cultural issues through direct service, experiential learning, and personal reflection.
When he learned about the program in his freshman year of college, Eddie was seeking a change of scenery for his first fall break—and the ABP offered just that. He could not have guessed that the program would turn out to be so much more. As a unique opportunity to travel and engage with nonprofit organizations, the program sparked a passion for service in Eddie.
“On my second trip with ABP, we visited Alamosa, Colorado and worked with PALS Children’s Program of La Puente,” shares Eddie. “Although we only traveled a few hours away from Denver, the opportunity opened my eyes to a different way of living.”
During their time in Alamosa, Eddie and the other participants had a chance to get to know the children in the PALS program. As the only male Scholar in the group that year, the children found a friend in Eddie.
“I will never forget when we first met the kids and all of the boys ran towards me,” Eddie reflects. “I felt important. In a sense, they saw me as a big brother. The memory of working with those kids is really impactful and beautiful.”
Lauren Koppel, assistant director of scholarship support and retention at MSU Denver, serves as staff advisor to the Alternative Break Program. Lauren says she remembers the ABP trip to Alamosa as a turning point in Eddie’s growth as a leader.
“All of the little boys at PALS were so excited that Eddie spoke Spanish,” shares Lauren. “They wanted his attention. Young boys need positive role models, and Eddie gave them that.”
In that moment, Lauren decided to challenge Eddie to set an example for his peers. After his first two years of ABP trips, Eddie wanted to play a bigger role in the program. He stepped up as a site leader in his third year. By attending conferences and trainings, Eddie was able to bring back valuable knowledge to help grow the program through staffing and recruitment.
Now, in his role as student director of the ABP, Eddie has established a legacy of growing the program, both in participant numbers and on the map. The program’s next trip in March will take participants all the way to Catalina Island Conservancy in California. There, participants will learn about how the conservancy balances protecting Catalina’s unique environment with serving the needs of a diverse public. Closer to Denver, a second trip offering will take participants to Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Kanab, Utah, which is home to nearly 1,600 homeless animals.
Both trips leverage the relationships that Eddie has cultivated with nonprofit partners. In giving back through community service, trip participants will learn more about social and environmental causes while also learning about themselves. This, Eddie says, is the key driver of his work through the program.
“I want to leave behind something that I felt was missing on campus,” Eddie explains. “As a commuter campus, MSU Denver students do not necessarily have the same college experience that students have at residential campuses. The ABP gives DSF Scholars, and now other students, a deeper experience, even for just one week. That is my biggest goal because that is ultimately what helped me stay in college.”
Now well on his way to college graduation, Eddie hopes to take his leadership skills to the international business world. Though he aims to grow his career in sales, Eddie does not plan to leave his passion for service learning at the graduation stage.
“My experiences with ABP, along with volunteering with my fraternity, Nu Alpha Kappa, have guided me towards the path of achievement,” says Eddie. “Each conference, workshop, and leadership opportunity I have experienced in college has brought me new insight. All of these experiences, brought together by the opportunity to pursue my education, are preparing me for what is yes to come.”
DSF is grateful for our strong partnership with MSU Denver through the Leadership Program to support our Scholars in their development as leaders on campus and beyond. To learn more about the program, click here.