Eric Donado ’13 and Trap Yates ’14 could have spent their fall break doing research for independent work, catching up on sleep at home, or campaigning for candidates in the November elections, the week’s original purpose.
Instead, they led 10 other students to Austin, Texas, where they delved into the lives of the city’s homeless and its “ecosystem” of unique public and private anti-homelessness initiatives.
Sponsored by the Pace Center for Civic Engagement, this Breakout Princeton Civic Action Trip was one of six student-devised and student-led fall break opportunities for diverse groups of students to “break out” of the Orange Bubble and tackle public issues through immersion, discussion, and service.
Donado, a former Breakout leader, and Yates, a participant on Donado’s spring 2012 trip, had both followed the controversy earlier this year when a marketing company paid some of Austin’s homeless to serve as wireless Internet hotspots during the SXSW Festival.
With a few calls to a major Austin homeless shelter and resource center, Front Steps, and the computer literacy organization Austin Free-Net, the leaders arranged for volunteer opportunities, including a consulting project for Austin Free-Net specially designed to maximize the students’ impact in such a short time span. The group also met with a professor at University of Texas at Austin and a Texas state legislator, and later joined the Breakout Houston group to present their projects to the Princeton Club of Austin as part of the club’s annual speaker series.
In the evenings, the students — almost all strangers before their selection for the trip — cooked together in the kitchen of the church that housed them and explored the city, whose unofficial slogan is “Keep Austin Weird.”
Parinda Wanitwat ’14 prized the diverse connections and new perspectives she acquired over the break, saying the trip and leaders “exceeded all expectations.”
Kristina Malzbender ’14 agreed. “I just think, how cool is it that Princeton supports doing this? We need more programs like Breakout, because there are a lot of students who really want to experience this,” she said.
Sarah Xiyi Chen ’13 is a Woodrow Wilson School major from Arcadia, Calif.