According to the University of Georgia Center for Leadership and Service website, IMPACT, formerly labeled Alternative Spring Break (ASB), began at UGA in 1994. Since then, over 3,000 UGA students have participated in its affordable, weeklong, substance-free, experiential service learning projects.
Any undergraduate or graduate student at UGA can participate in one of the 25 trips, offered during winter and spring breaks. Each trip has a different location and focus, examples including ageism, animal advocacy, and homelessness and poverty.
IMPACT’s co-site leaders, executive team and advisers are all UGA students, too. Each trip is entirely student-led. David Harshbarger, 21, says this is what makes IMPACT unique from other service organizations around Athens. “Even the advisors we have are doctoral students,” says Harshbarger. He says students are mostly drawn to the organization for its affordability and travel opportunity, but also the welcoming environment. “As a freshman, you always want to find your group, where you fit in,” says Harshbarger.
Abby Deane, 20, says having two site leaders on each trip helps everything run smoothly. “It mostly helps with planning because it’s such a big commitment and lots of responsibility,” says Deane. “The trip is 100 percent in the hands of the site leaders.”
The co-site leaders work in the IMPACT office each week to plan the trip, and go to structured two-hour meetings with other site leaders and the executive team every Monday night until the groups depart. Deane says these meetings give them all the tools they need to plan the trip. “It’s a very structured organization,” says Deane, “and part of the reason it’s that way is because we’re under the insurance and protection of UGA. Being completely student-led, we have to have every minute planned. Every single minute of our trip is accounted for and planned out.”
Deane first heard about IMPACT from her resident adviser her freshman year of college. Her RA described such a life-changing experience that Deane said, “I decided I would do it even though I had no idea what it was.” Deane says she was not involved with the organization until she actually departed for Birmingham, Alabama, her first trip destination. The trip focus was human trafficking. Deane says, “I learned a lot from the people on my trip, and wanted to work alongside them even more.” Deane applied to be a site leader the month after she returned.
IMPACT’s welcoming attitude strives to bring in students from all years, backgrounds and levels of experience with social justice. “One of the biggest things that sets IMPACT apart from the other service opportunities is that we let anyone come without prior knowledge of their topic, or social justice in general. Instead of shaming people for not understanding things, we try to teach them to be active citizens through service,” says Deane.
Harshbarger has led trips in Charleston, South Carolina, and New Orleans. Next spring, he will lead his third and final IMPACT trip, this time to Charlotte, North Carolina, focusing on education advocacy. “Because I’ve been on four trips and led three of them, I feel pretty confident about being able to provide a good experience for my participants,” says Harshbarger. He says the meaningful relationships with others on the trip are what made him return each year.
Jack Nguyen, 21, says his favorite thing about IMPACT is the diversity of the people who participate. “We have all different colors, races and backgrounds, but we all come together and have the same view.”
That “same view” is helping others and serving the community with no expectations. Patel, 21, says she likes that IMPACT is doing something for a community that can’t give anything back. Patel has been on two trips with IMPACT, and she believes it has made her more aware of the issues in her own community.
IMPACT participants can experience long-lasting effects, according to Nguyen, who leaves for his fourth trip with the organization next March. “IMPACT has kept me outside my comfort zone and helped me be aware of the issues outside the ‘college bubble.'”