Students spend the holiday season giving back on alternative breaks

Some students spent time in December giving back to the community rather than sleeping in and raiding their parents' fridge.

Alternative Breaks is a program through the Mary Ellen Brandell Volunteer Center that gives Central Michigan University students a chance to take service trips over the university's academic break times and on occasional weekends.

Rockford senior Shannon Schmutz, chairperson of the alternative breaks program, said the breaks are "designed to enhance the understanding of a chosen social issue and develop the volunteer's comprehension of the topic and how it applies to our home communities."

This year, students were able to choose from 13 different alternative winter breaks.

"Students might sign up for breaks focusing on poverty, hunger and homelessness, environmental issues, education, disaster relief or many others," Schmutz said.

Among the 13 available options, one international trip took students from CMU down to Peru to focus on disadvantaged youth. Ten students began their winter break by teaching English to young children (aging from a few months old to fifth grade) in Peru. They were also given the opportunity to work on a reforestation project in a local village.

"There are a million reasons why not to do something, but, if you commit to a couple reasons to go on an Alternative Break, and go through the experience with an open mind, it will change your life," Schmutz said.

Twin sisters Candace and Carleen Quint, both Farmington Hills seniors, went on the Peru alternative break and had what they called meaningful experiences.

"Simply, the whole break impacted me," Candace said. "Trying to summarize and pick out a single moment of my break is impossible. Let's just say I have set a personal goal to return to Urubamba, Cusco, Peru in less than five years. I loved it that much."

Candace said this trip helped her remember things she is passionate about: "service, children, youth, international travel and learning."

Carleen had a similar experience.

"The best impact I will bring back from the trip is all the children's smiling faces wanting to learn English (and) wanting to be able to communicate with me. Also, they accepted me, even though my Spanish was very little," Carleen said. "Personally, it has confirmed that I want to go into teaching. I want all children to be able to receive an education."

Both of them were taken aback by the children's passion for learning.

"Once we started teaching they were soaking it up like sponges. Constantly asking, 'en ingles, que es?!' It was wonderful," Candace said.


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