When Brandy Garcia, a senior at Florida International University, began attending programs at the Chabad-Lubavitch Jewish Student Center a few years back, she had no idea the impact it would make in her life.

The center’s co-directors, Rabbi Levi and Sashie Friedman, “are like my second family,” said the 21-year-old Miami native. “I always have an amazing time when I’m attending Chabad programs.”

This past weekend, Garcia joined hundreds of other college students at the Summer College Shabbaton, an annual event co-sponsored by several South Florida Chabad Houses and the New York-based Chabad on Campus International Foundation. Held last year in Jacksonville, this year’s bash was hosted by the Capt. Hyman Galbut Ohr Menachem Mendel Jewish Learning Center Chabad in Miami Beach. It came as part of a national Chabad on Campus initative to increase regional programming across the United States.

According to Levi Friedman, the sheer draw of the event – occurring smack dab in the middle of summer break – is a testament to the students’ sense of community.

“The fact that an average of 200 students attend the Shabbaton each year shows that they have an interest in their Chabad House even when they are not on campus,” explained the rabbi.

Attendance was not limited to South Florida students, said organizers. A good portion of the Shabbaton’s participants attend schools across the country and happened to be vacationing in Florida, or were simply spending the summer at home.

Many of the students made reservations for the event by logging on to the Chabad on Campus International Foundation’s Web site at www.chabad.edu, but according to Rabbi Boruch Shmuel Liberow of the Chabad Student Center serving Florida Atlantic University and Lynn University in Boca Raton, a significant number just showed up at the door.

“We never know how many people will come,” said Liberow.

The Shabbaton began Friday evening with a Shabbat candle lighting at 7:38 p.m., followed by a prayer service. An elegant dinner came next, with Torah discussions, singing and a special program entitled ‘Friday Night Live’ continuing into the night.

On Saturday, guest speaker Dr. Jacob Brudoley, an instructor in the psychology department at Kansas University Medical Center, delivered a lecture on Torah and science.

Besides FIU, FAU and Lynn, other schools represented included Florida State University, Miami Dade College, Nova Southeastern University, the University of Central Florida, the University of Florida, the University of Miami, the University of North Florida and the University of South Florida.

For his part, Liberow said that one of his favorite aspects of the Shabbaton is “seeing new faces and being overjoyed at seeing old friends.”

Garcia couldn’t have agreed more. Just before the Shabbaton, she said: “I am really looking forward to seeing the college friends that I lose touch with over the summer.”