Sac State students get out the vote during Alternative Break

College students traditionally spend spring break on a beach, but this year, more than 100 Sacramento State students – joined by 40 local high school and community college students – volunteered to knock on 1,600 doors in south Sacramento neighborhoods to get out the vote for the presidential election this fall.

“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.”

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

Students worked two shifts – 9 a.m. to noon and 1 to 4 p.m. – daily through Friday, March 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.

“We expected that at least one-third of the residents will register to vote,” says ACT spokeswoman Gabby Trejo. “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.”

CEC’s Alternative Break 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 would be 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 50,000 Sacramento State students have volunteered 1 million hours in the community. The economic impact of their efforts is valued at approximately $20 million.

“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. – Dixie Reid

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