Alternative Spring Break Trips at Disney and D.C.

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Alternative Spring Break in Washington DC

From the nation’s capital to the “Happiest Place on Earth,” two teams of UNC Asheville students spent their spring breaks learning and serving—and squeezing in some fun. One team headed south for a leadership development program at Disney World, while a second team journeyed to Washington D.C. to engage in service learning experiences focused on hunger and homelessness.

Brianna Caraccio, a senior majoring in economics, already had some experience working with nonprofits focused on hunger and homelessness in Kenya, and she’s currently in a course on economics in food systems. So traveling to Washington D.C. to serve in and learn from various nonprofit organizations addressing hunger issues felt like a natural fit to her.

“When I learn about this type of thing, my heart gets excited,” Caraccio said. “I really value the sustainable development that is behind these organizations, and the empowering of people in general. I chose economics because I wanted to learn how the systems work, how different groups of people are either supported or not supported. And what I can do to help.”

Caraccio and her team visited four different organizations during their week in D.C., each with its own approach to tackling the persistent problem of hunger and homelessness. Each day provided an opportunity to not only spend some time volunteering with the organization, but also learn about their work. Caraccio said she was impressed by the employees and volunteers in these organizations.

“It just very joyful amidst the poverty that they saw around them all the time,” Caraccio said. “It makes you value things differently. It’s very rewarding to see what other people are doing to make an impact in the community. It makes you want to do something.”

The team also made time to visit museums and monuments while they were there, and check out some local restaurants.

Caraccio isn’t sure yet what she wants to do after she graduates, but she knows she’ll take the lessons she’s learned from her experience in Washington D.C. wherever she goes.

“If I have skills that I can give to someone else in order for them to teach their community and further things, I think that’s what we’re supposed to do as human beings,” Caraccio said. “And if I can gain more exposure and gain more knowledge and insight as to how to do that in the best way possible, then by all means.”

Lila Welsh, a senior environmental studies major, had her future in mind when she signed up for the trip to Florida for Disney’s leadership development program.

“I want to go into higher education, so I’d be working with a lot of groups of people,” Welsh explained. “And I wanted to hone my leadership skills with one of the best leadership courses on earth, which is Disney’s.”

Welsh assumed the trip would involve a lot of sitting and listening to lectures, so she brought plenty of pens and paper. It turned out, she didn’t really need them.

“We were actually outside most of the time, walking around the parks, doing activities with each other,” Welsh said. “One of the classes we actually went on a ride as part of the experience.”

And while they did have some free time to enjoy the parks, Welsh found the most rewarding part was “getting to know everybody on the trip, and getting to have all of these—for lack of a better word— ‘magical’ experiences with them,” she said. “Not a lot of people get to do this kind of thing. We got backstage tours, we got lessons that they give their own employees and not a lot of people get to do that. So, to share it with people was so rewarding. I really feel like I have learned from it.”

Back on campus, Welsh has already put her new knowledge to work in her role with Underdog Productions, bringing lessons in leadership, organization, and perhaps a little magic, back to UNC Asheville.