CMU's alternative breaks program ranks fifth in nation

Central Michigan University's alternative breaks program has been ranked one of the top in the nation.

Break Away, a nonprofit organization that supports alternative breaks programs across the country, ranked CMU's program fifth in the country based on the number of breaks held and fourth based on the amount of volunteers who participated.

Alternative breaks are volunteer trips for students during winter, spring and summer breaks, where they travel across the United States and the world to volunteer for different causes. Causes range from animal endangerment, natural disaster relief and homelessness to suicide prevention and dealing with the elderly.

CMU's program has been active for 19 years, and coordinators said they pride themselves on providing affordable breaks for students.

"Alternative Breaks provides opportunities for students to serve the communities they care about," Alternative Breaks Chairperson and South Haven senior Shannon Schmutz said. "Right now, we are running at full capacity for the number of breaks we can plan and hold."

Alternative winter breaks were held the week of Dec. 16, and 13 breaks with 152 volunteers were sent out. The program is planning another 13 breaks with 156 volunteers for spring break. More than 100 people are usually on the waiting list for alternative breaks.

Mount Pleasant senior Ricky Hohn has been a site leader on five breaks. He traveled to Memphis, Tenn., on his most recent break, where he volunteered to help kids at a Ronald McDonald House.

"It is really influential to see how much we can help the kids and their parents," Hohn said.

Fabiano Resident Assistant and Riverview junior Nicholas Jaros went as a co-site leader to Kansas City, Mo. He volunteered his time with an organization called Operation Breakthrough to provide a safe and stable environment for kids in preschool and below.

"Alternative breaks is also a great opportunity to meet other great individuals from Central," Jaros said via email. "When traveling up to 24 hours in a van with 11 other people, you don't have a choice but to get to know one another, and you can make great friends in the process"