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Penn's Civic house is offering two alternative ways to serve communities over winter break. | Courtesy of Monique Sager

It’s that time of the year again — when students begin to look beyond Thanksgiving break to the end of the semester and winter vacation.

While many Penn students will be traveling to different countries and continents with friends and family over their vacation, some students have decided to spend their breaks traveling with fellow students on service missions. Through Penn’s Civic House, two Alternate Winter Break (AWB) trips offer students the chance to give back to communities beyond campus.

The trips will each take 14 students to different southeastern communities for seven days from January 2 to January 8.

One trip will take students to a food bank in the heart of Atlanta, Ga. They will have the chance to participate in a Hunger 101 workshop that will inform them on the prevalence of food insecurity and food deserts in urban areas.

The other trip will travel to the small town of Harlan, in the Appalachian Mountains of eastern Kentucky. Participants will learn about the coal mining industry and discuss its impact on environmental problems, Appalachian culture and persistent poverty in the area. Students will interact with local residents — coal miners and environmental activists alike — and contribute to service projects at the Harlan County homeless shelter and Pine Mountain Settlement School.

Last year, College sophomore Natalie Breuel went on an AWB trip to rural Tennessee. The focus of the trip was working on service projects with Native American communities.

“I was drawn to it because we were going to be spending time with the Cherokee Native American population,” she said. “I didn’t really know much about them and was interested in learning. Plus, I’d never been to Tennessee so I was excited to see the Smokey Mountains.”

Natalie found that the best part of the experience was the camaraderie she developed with fellow Penn students who she otherwise would not have met.

“You end up with a lot of interesting people because not everyone wants to spend their break on a service trip,” she said. “We all became really close and comfortable with each other.”

College junior Rebecca Composto also participated in the Tennessee trip last winter break.

“I decided to apply because it had an outdoor component, including trail maintenance,” she said. “What I didn’t expect was that my favorite thing would be meeting new people. I gained a sense of perspective on the importance of balancing school and relationships. This school has so many people and there’s no way to meet them all.”