Fall semester at Suffolk University brings with it a flood of new Alternative Spring Break applications, and senior Elise Kapitancek is one of hundreds hoping for a spot on one of this year's 10 service trips.

Elise KapitancekWhat sets Kapitancek apart from the mainstream is her steadfast commitment to the University's many volunteer efforts.

After transferring to Suffolk as a sophomore, the International Affairs major and Philosophy minor decided to spend her remaining undergraduate years taking every opportunity possible to get involved. She eagerly applied for the Alternative Winter Break service-learning trip to El Salvador, coordinated by the Center for Community Engagement and the Moakley Archive and Institute.

“I came into it not knowing anyone at Suffolk,” says Kapitancek.

Building confidence

She was nervous about meeting new people and making friends while in El Salvador, but her leap of faith paid off for what became one of her most rewarding experiences here at Suffolk.

Kapitancek’s work on a home-building project in the Salvadoran town of Suchitoto helped her see herself in a new light. In hearing the people’s stories and being a part of their recovery after the civil war of the 1980s, she found “inner peace” and “confidence.”

“I could make differences in ways I never thought I could,” she says, “El Salvador made me comfortable with who I am as a person.”

Kapitancek took her newfound sense of self to Denver, Colorado, for Alternative Spring Break this past March, volunteering with Habitat for Humanity.

Learning from peers

Because there were fewer students on her Denver trip, Kapitancek made it a mission to talk to each one.
Whether it was while working on roof construction, exploring downtown Denver, or having late night conversations, Kapitancek was connecting with her peers, building new and lasting friendships.

“I learn the most by interacting with people,” she says.

Having a diverse group on the trip made for a collection of different viewpoints, which were shared on a daily basis. Kapitancek gained knowledge and friends that changed her perspectives on life.

Expanding service connections

At first glance she might seem shy and reserved, however once you get to talking to Kapitancek you'll find she's as lively and friendly as the next young woman.

"I love people," she laughs.

Now, as the Community Partnership Service Scholar for the Center for Community Engagement, Kapitancek acts as the liaison between the center’s student volunteers and its non-profit partners. She plans to revitalize her dedication to service and people in El Salvador, where she'll again be volunteering for Alternative Winter Break.