Many college students return from spring break with nothing to show for it but a sunburn and a hangover. Charm Garlitos and 30 other UCI students came back to campus with something else: the satisfaction of knowing they spent their break doing hard labor on behalf of others.

Garlitos, a senior political science major, directed 13 students on a trip to Waveland, Miss., to help rebuild the hurricane-damaged community through UCI’s Alternative Spring Break Program. The program is part of the national Break Away movement that sends students on short-term volunteer projects for community agencies.

“I’d done spring break in Vegas and Mexico. This was fun in a different way. The people were so thankful for what we were doing,” Garlitos says. The students spent long days removing debris and cleaning out houses, contending with humidity, heat and bugs. At night they slept four to a tent.

“So many people think our generation is just about partying, but a lot of us want to give something back,” Garlitos says.

One sign that community service is having growing appeal over Cancun: The UCI program attracted 92 applicants this year – triple last year’s number. Only a third could participate due to budget limits.

“Our goal is not to provide a nice getaway,” says Edgar Dormitorio, director of the UCI Volunteer Center, which started the program four years ago. “It’s to encourage the students to think about how they can continue the work when they return home, and to make them active, engaged citizens.”

This was the first year the program – coordinated by the UCI Volunteer Center, Health Education and Campus Recreation – sent students out of state on service projects.

A group of 16 students traveled to Saguaro, Ariz., to help restore Saguaro National Park.

Garlitos helped out at a homeless shelter during last year’s break and found it to be a “life-changing experience.” She plans to volunteer for the AmeriCorps community service program after graduating.

“I hope this motivates other students to do community service, not just at spring break, but year-round,” she says.