Alternative Breaks provide students with opportunities to give back on spring break

While most students will be spending their spring break without a care in the world, some will be caring for the troubles of others.

One hundred and fifty six students will be going on Alternative Breaks next week to different locations around the United States.

“Alternative Breaks are opportunities for students to volunteer across the country and internationally over their winter, spring or summer breaks. We also have alternative weekends throughout the semester,” Alternative Breaks Chairperson and Rockford senior Shannon Schmutz said.

Groups of 12 will be gathering their belongings, cramming into mini vans and setting off to their destinations to provide their time and help with a specific social issue.

Schmutz said there are many different social issues that students can choose to work with.

“There’s adult education and (lower) education, civil rights and diversity, health promotion, HIV/AIDS, environment, state parks preservation, urban renewal,” Schmutz said.

Each student signs up for the break on OrgSync and is then chosen on a first-come, first-serve basis. They don’t know where the destination is, but rather choose their trips based on the social issue.

Although the trips are a week long, students prepare for them long before they drive off campus

“You prepare for the breaks before hand by learning about your group and doing issue education,” Schmutz said.

This year students are traveling in all different directions.

While some students are headed toward the south, others are driving out to Maine, Washington D.C. and Virginia or South Carolina.

Lake Isabella junior Sarah Fiorillo is traveling to Virginia to volunteer at Chippokes Plantation State Park.

“I'm looking forward to working alongside 11 other CMU students,” she said. “This will be my third Alternative Break and I've formed great friendships through the program. It's always an adventure.”

Fiorillo will help clear off trails at the park focusing on the social issue of “State Parks Preservation.”

Schmutz said new community partners were added this year with the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning) community in Washington D.C. and there is also a new community partner in Maine for environmental issues.

While many people go on these trips to serve others, it is also beneficial to the participants themselves.

The average cost for a trip is around $148, Schmutz said.

The costs for traveling, food and housing are all covered through fund raising and university support.

Schmutz said Alternative Breaks is a national organization under the name Break Away. Michigan as a state was just named the state with the most schools to be a part of Break Away.

“Every Alternative Break that I go on has been a completely new and different experience,” she said.  “And it just really makes me remember why service is important to me and why I want to continue to do service for the rest of my life.”


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