University of Colorado senior Lindsey Zelmer spent her spring break leading students on a trip to Santa Catalina Island off the coast of Southern California. But it wasn’t the stereotypical spring break of late-night parties and beach lounging. Zelmer’s vacation was all preserving a pristine landscape.
“It’s just right over the water from L.A., and there’s this vast contrast,” Zelmer says. There’s a 20-year waiting list to own a car on Santa Catalina Island, and preserving the island’s unique plant and animal species is of utmost important to the island’s inhabitants, Zelmer explains, especially after the island was ravaged by a fire a few years ago.
“It needs to be conserved, because if it isn’t conserved here, it’s not anywhere else,” she says. “This is a really special place.”
Zelmer began preparing for the journey to Santa Catalina Island after she was selected to be a site leader by Alternative Breaks, a program of CU-Boulder’s volunteer resource center, that places teams of college students in communities to engage in community service and experiential learning.
Zelmer’s eco cred speaks for iteself. She has worked on a wildlife reservation in Israel during a semester studying abroad, is a member of a club that promotes eating locally grown and sustainable foods, and she works at a vegetarian restaurant and practices a vegetarian lifestyle.
“The beautiful scenery of the island captivated all twelve of us,” says CU-Boulder freshman Ricky Bell, who attended the trip with Zelmer. “But the underlying beauty remained in the constant passion to help a community and ecosystem that Lindsey Zelmer embodies.”
Under the guidance of Zelmer and the other site leader from CU-Boulder, Anna Taugher, the group worked toward several tangible goals, from repainting the educational area in the island’s small airport, to trail maintenance and repairing and building miles of fences around plants for protection.
Zelmer also made sure the group observed and participated in the locals’ sustainable lifestyle. One evening they made a salad entirely from vegetation and flowers gathered from the hillsides around their campsite.
“That for me is eating locally, and that’s really cool!” Zelmer says. “I started to push that idea […] that had the potential to resonate with somebody.”
Expressing ideas like the importance of eating locally helped Zelmer to achieve a more personal goal.
“Why are we doing this? I’ve been very focused on the idea of this being an experience that is meant to be resonating enough to bring back to your home community and change the decisions and the ways that you act,” she explains.
“After the first two days of working at the airport, I saw this amazing shift in the way they started engaging in the environment and the community around them,” Zelmer says. “When someone told us something new, everyone would just grab it, roll with it, bring it up later and never let it go. Nothing was passing us by.”
Since returning from the trip on March 28, Zelmer says, “Everyone is still brimming with intention.”
Droz says she plans to “continue to be a catalyst for change,” and she is currently applying for a position to return to the island to continue conservation work.
Zelmer encourages all college students to consider taking an alternative spring break trip focused on community service, not just because of how you can help a community and lessons you will receive from it, but because of the natural, positive feelings it evokes.
“It gives us these incredible highs to be thinking about these things and connecting with each other through it,” says Zelmer. “Everyone was just like, ‘Wow, this was amazing.’”