Alternative Breaks has success this summer, plans to expand program this year
Rather than lounging on a beach or enjoying time with friends, some Central Michigan University students spent a portion of their summer serving others.
Alternative Breaks, which started at CMU in 1994, gives students the opportunity to participate in travel experiences dedicated to social justice as an alternative to standard vacation breaks. This year, 54 students were sent on one of five breaks across the nation, dealing with topics ranging from substance abuse to animal endangerment.
Waterford graduate student Jenn Tabeek said all breaks are based on social issues and that students don’t know the location of the break when they sign up, only the issue they will serve with.
“This really helps make Alternative Breaks about the service and not just the travel aspect,” she said.
The five issues students were assigned this summer included animal endangerment, America’s heroes, education, Native American issues and substance abuse. Next year, Alternative Breaks plans to add more issues.
“Next summer, our goal is to send out eight, including an international break,” Tabeek said.
But, summer alternative breaks aren't the only thing seeing additions this year. Wyoming graduate student Jason Vasquez said Alternative Breaks will add many new elements during the semester.
“As the Alternative Breaks program is celebrating its 20-year anniversary this year, we have a lot of exciting things taking place with the program. For instance, we are adding six more domestic Alternative Winter Breaks, which opens up at least 60 spots for student volunteers to serve local and global communities,” he said.
Ada senior Hannah Messer said her Alternative Break changed her life.
On her break, Messer said she and the other students worked at a Ronald McDonald House in Memphis, Tenn., where many St. Jude patients stay while receiving treatment. They also worked at a children’s hospital, shadowing doctors and helping the children.
"For anyone who has ever considered going on one, do it. Don’t even hesitate. You do not want to miss out on the opportunity of a lifetime,” she said.
Tabeek said students benefit from Alternative Breaks in many ways, including providing students an opportunity to gain service in a field they might be interested in for a career.
“Not only do students carry the experience they gained with them for the rest of their lives, but volunteering is also a great way to build a resume," Tabeek said.
Tabeek said this year there will be 50 breaks, including 19 winter breaks, 13 spring breaks, eight summer breaks and 10 weekend breaks.
To join Alternative Breaks, students can sign up on Orgsync. There are specific sign-up dates during the year and they open at 7:30 a.m. The next sign-up date will be for winter breaks on Monday, Sept. 9.