Alternative breaks offer chance for students to get involved with worthy causes

Each year, hundreds of Central Michigan University students participate in alternative breaks through the Mary Ellen Brandell Volunteer Center.

Students choose to give up a portion of their break to volunteer for a particular social issue, ranging from urban renewal to hunger and homelessness. Traveling to a specific city in the United States, students work for one week in order to serve their cause.

Livonia senior Beth Kiurski has participated in three alternative breaks during her time at CMU. Kiurski helped to fight hunger and homelessness during two breaks and served as a site leader for an urban renewal initiative.

“I loved being a site leader because I loved facilitating people on their first time through alternative breaks,” she said. “I love immersing myself in a social issue and spending 40 hours a week working for an issue I am passionate about.”

Last summer, Kiurski traveled to Denver, for one week with 10 CMU students to work at Harvest Farms. The free program offers men with substance abuse problems including alcoholism and prescription abuse the ability to receive guidance toward a sober lifestyle.

During her break, Kiurski and others participated in daily chores with the men, doing anything from shoveling manure to baling hay and working in the kitchen.

“My favorite thing was getting to know the guys on the farm,” she said. “You usually think of lazy people when you think of people with substance abuse problems, but these guys defied the stereotypes.”

Kiurski said she liked how the guys on the farm were not afraid to open up to her. Having had people in her life who dealt with substance abuse, she said she feels the break improved her ability to help people in her own life.

Dundee junior Grace Gimesky participated in her first alternative break last spring, heading to Pittsburgh to assist in an urban renewal initiative alongside Kiurski.

“Contributing to raising living standards for individuals within the city builds community and reminds us that it is our civic duty to support one another,” she said.

Kiurski encourages others to participate in alternative breaks for a stronger résumé, more worldly experiences and the ability to easily get a job after college.

“It gives you an opportunity to stretch your mind and expand your culture while making a group of new friends and having the experience of a lifetime,” she said.

Gimesky expressed similar thoughts on the subject.

“CMU students should be highly encouraged to participate in an alternative break because it opens your eyes to realizing that this world is a big place,” she said. “Contributing your time through service is one of the strongest community builders.”

Kiurski and Gimesky both plan to participate in two more alternative breaks. Kiurski will be focusing on survivors of aggression this semester, while Gimesky will assist in the New Orleans disaster relief.

Mark Cantrell, fundraising chair for the student advisory board, said CMU has one of the bigger alternative break programs in the country. In 2007, CMU’s program won National Alternative Break Program of the Year.

“CMU’s alternative breaks program is student-led,” he said. “That makes it unique.”

Cantrell said the university trusts its students to drive to their destinations, where as other universities typically require an adult supervisor to accompany students.

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