As the CMU Alternative Breaks program celebrates its twentieth anniversary this spring, one of the original members reflects on how the volunteer program has changed.
Central Michigan University alumnus Lisa Bottomley participated in the first Alternative Spring Break service trip and she served as the first chair of the program.
“I work in non-profits and you see great programs, needed programs, come and go,” Bottomley said. “To see Alternative Breaks stand the test of time is exciting.”
The Mary Ellen Brandell Volunteer Center’s Alternative Breaks program gives Central Michigan students the opportunity to travel to other communities to perform service projects during winter, spring and summer breaks.
Bottomley first got involved with Alternative Breaks in 1995. While working at The Cabin, 930 W Broomfield St, she noticed one of the regular customers, Kurtis Stanley, was working intently on something. She started a conversation with Stanley, who was the student coordinator for the volunteer center at the time.
Stanley told her that he was organizing the pilot run for a service program called Alternative Spring Break. His passion for the subject inspired her to join.
Thirteen students went on the first trip to Red Bird Mission in Beverly, Kentucky. The group spent their spring break painting, repairing, and performing odd jobs at the mission and school there.
With the success of the first trip, the group decided to continue the program the next year. Bottomley became the first official chair of Alternative Spring Breaks and served for two years.
When CMU’s Alternative Breaks started, the program only made one trip a year during spring break. Since then, the program has been steadily growing in numbers and scale. Alternative Breaks now offers numerous projects throughout the year, including international destinations in countries like Mexico, Peru, Costa Rica, and Germany. The volunteer center plans to offer more than 50 different projects this year.
Bottomley said she had not expected the program to endure for so long and for it to affect so many people around the world. When she was a student, she never considered what Alternative Breaks would be like twenty years later.
“You always hope or think something like this will continue to grow,” Bottomley said, “but I don’t think we realized that it could last this long and be so much better.”
Bottomley developed close relationships with her fellow volunteers during her Alternative Break trips, even though the trips only lasted a week. It is her belief that people make stronger connections with one another when they are in new environments and “outside of their comfort zones.”
Bottomley believes the future of Alternative Breaks lies in offering more long-term service opportunities for volunteers. She said the volunteer center’s recent efforts to increase alumni involvement in service projects could also aid the program’s expansion.
After her first volunteer experience, Bottomley shifted her academic focus from education to the humanities. She received a Sociology degree with a social work concentration when she graduated from Central Michgian University.
Bottomley now works as a senior specialist at Michigan State University Extension where she teaches those involved in mentoring programs the most effective methods.
Bottomley is still involved to a lesser extent in Alternative Breaks and the volunteer center. Bottomley has been asked to give a speech in honor of Issues Day at the center this year. Her husband, Nic Bottomley, is the president of the Mary Ellen Brandell Volunteer Center’s Alumni Association, so they often attend events there.