Alternative Break studentsStudent volunteers Arianna Stubblefield, center, and Mary Kate Sarte, right, review a map with Francine Redada, program coordinator for Sac State's Community Engagement Center. (Sacramento State/Jessica Vernone) More photos

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College students traditionally spend spring break on a beach, but this year, 86 Sacramento State students – joined by a dozen local high school and community college students – volunteered to knock on more than 700 doors in south Sacramento neighborhoods to get out the vote for this fall’s presidential election.

Sacramento State’s Community Engagement Center (CEC) led the Alternative Break Week effort in partnership with Sacramento Area Congregations Together (Sacramento ACT).

Students worked two shifts daily, March 21-25. In addition to the Sac State crew, volunteers included students from Sacramento City College, John F. Kennedy High, and the Met, a small high school in the Southside Park neighborhood.

“The students learned key facts about the issues that impact communities of color, and they learned how they can help to empower the community to participate in the political process,” says ACT spokeswoman Gabby Trejo.

The volunteers talked with 360 neighborhood residents and registered 50 new voters.

CEC’s Alternative Break Week is a springtime tradition for Sacramento State students. In past years, they have spent their time away from the classroom by planting a community garden in Oak Park, cleaning and pricing items at the Habitat for Humanity retail store, packing lunches for homebound seniors who rely on Meals on Wheels, and cleaning barns and stables at a horse-rescue farm. And that was all in one week.

This year, CEC director Dana Kivel decided to focus on a single effort – registering voters in some of Sacramento’s underserved neighborhoods – for the five days of Alternative Break.

“We thought this was so important, especially given national news reports about low voter turnout in parts of Sacramento,” Kivel says. “I happened to hear a story on National Public Radio that talked, in part, about Meadowview, where only 45 percent of registered voters cast a ballot in the 2014 general election.

“This presidential election is so politically charged and polarizing, and we want to help voices be heard. Our students are making a difference.”

Since the CEC’s founding in 1996, more than 20,000 Sacramento State students have volunteered in excess of 1 million hours in the community. The economic impact of their efforts is $25 million in today’s dollars.

“We like to create opportunities for students to help the community and to respond to the needs of our area,” Kivel says. “Students have many opportunities for spring break, and that they choose to participate in civic engagement and community service makes me very hopeful for the future.”

The student volunteers received Community Engagement Center T-shirts, water bottles, and string backpacks. Associated Students Inc.’s A-Team provided the noontime lunch for Sacramento State students, and CEC fed the volunteers from the other campuses.

“We learned at the orientation that this area has one of the lowest percentages of people who vote,” says Arianna Stubblefield, 20, a communication studies major at Sac State. She got credit in her government class for participating. “The work we were doing was important, to let people be informed. Going door to door opens your eyes to the fact that a lot of people don’t know they can register to vote.” – Dixie Reid