Traveling to tropical destinations has been a popular spring break tradition among U.S. college students since the 1940’s. And while most spring breakers choose to spend their week-long vacation lounging on the beach, some choose an alternative – volunteering. Recently, nine University of Central Florida students and a staff advisor traveled to the tropical island of Puerto Rico to spend their spring break volunteering at a local animal shelter, as part of UCF’s Alternative Spring Break program.

Alternative Spring Break, coordinated by Volunteer UCF, gives students the opportunity to use their spring break to benefit society. ASB places teams of students in amazing locations throughout the Unites States and beyond to engage in community service and learn about significant social issues.

Tiffany Greenis, the Assistant Director of Campus Life at UCF’s Rosen College of Hospitality Management, served as the advisor of the seven-day ASB trip to San Juan, Puerto Rico.

“ASB is such a great program because it gives people the opportunity to help communities that they wouldn’t otherwise be able to travel to,” said Greenis. “While the ASB program helps different communities in so many different ways, from human rights to disaster relief, our group wanted to help stray animals.”

Greenis’ group, who each paid $300 to help fund their trip, flew from Orlando, Fla. to San Juan to volunteer at the Save a Sato rescue shelter, a non-profit organization dedicated to easing the suffering of Puerto Rico’s homeless and abused animals.

“Each day our group would volunteer four-hour shifts at the shelter,” said Greenis. “Our job was to clean the cages, feed the animals, play with the puppies, and walk the dogs. Basically, we just helped care for these homeless animals.”

The goal of the shelter is to eventually help find loving homes for these animals, which the Alternative Spring Breakers went beyond their ASB requirements to do.

“We took some photos of the shelter and posted them on Facebook to help find homes for these animals,” said Greenis. “A friend saw the photos and is currently in the adoption process of two puppies.”

In addition to their duties at the rescue shelter, the Alternative Spring Breakers led an impromptu beach cleanup during their leisure time.

“During our downtime, we were walking along the beach and we were surprised to see how dirty some of the beaches were,” said Greenis. “The resort beaches were amazing, but the local ones needed to be cleaned up, and that’s just what we did. Really the entire trip was very rewarding.”

All ASB participants documented their trips in a reflection journal, which is reviewed by Volunteer UCF.