Alternative spring breaks help students recognize their role on campus


Students who attended the Leadership Through Education Alternative Spring Break pose with the tiles they painted: from left to right, freshman Grace Bautch, freshman Emily Thatcher, freshman Alicia Korff, freshman Kennedy Scott, junior Jacob Danek, sophomore Jennifer Woods, sophomore Leann Rielle, freshman Jaclyn Walling, freshman Autumn Emmendorfer, junior Kristina Slifco, senior Rachel Norman and freshman Kailey Adams. (Courtesy Photo)

After attending an alternative spring break, Chesterfield sophomore Nicholas Malendowski realized there are many ways he can make an impact on campus.

Malendowski was able to spend his spring break in Tallahassee, Florida on an alternative break known as Accessibility for Persons with Disabilities, working with Ability First and Gretchen Everhart School. The group helped build ramps with Ability First for people with disabilities.

“It really made me think more about my privilege and about all that I can do to help others,” Malendowski said. “I went on this break and now I want to educate people about what I learned there and varying issues surrounding that.”

Malendowski and his group spent a day at the beach while on the trip really soaking in the warmer weather that they would not be returning to in Michigan. 

Along with Malendowski, approximately 155 Central Michigan University students were able to volunteer on an alternative spring break and find their spark to continue to make an impact.

“The purpose of an alternative break is to teach students how to be active in their community now and after spring break,” said Erica Johnson, Mary Ellen Brandell Volunteer Center assistant director. “Our hope is that they can do that by working with community partners to learn how to engage with communities appropriately and focus on learning skill sets that will be helpful in their future jobs as well as doing community-based work and just being involved.”

Macomb freshman Maddie Thomas participated in the Refuge and Immigration Development alternative break in Decatur, Georgia and was able to volunteer at the International Community School.

“I think going on this break was almost like a call to action, like you understand this issue, you understand what’s the use of going there,” Thomas said. “This school is doing such a good job talking about diversity and inclusion, why aren’t we doing more at CMU, what can I do more.” 

The group spent the week working in the classrooms helping teachers and eating lunch and going to recess with the students. At the end of the week, some of the volunteers received thank you cards from the students in their classrooms.

Thomas and her group members were able to spend one of their evenings in downtown Atlanta and explore the city.

Alternative Breaks Student Coordinator Saginaw senior Rachel Norman went on her final alternative break with CMU over the spring break to Immokalee, Florida to work with Highlands Elementary School for the Leadership Through Education.

The volunteers worked in the classrooms and were paired with ones that were most likely to help them prepare for their futures. 

“They tried to tailor it towards what we were interested in so we had the best experience,” Norman said. “Half of the group were education majors so they were able to work with the grade they intend on teaching, some were interested in special education so they got to work with that department, some were interested in going into speech language pathology so they got to work with the inhouse speech language pathologist at the school.”

Norman said the group was able to leave their mark on the school by painting ceiling tiles. They also received a poster from a classroom taught by a CMU alumnus thanking them for their service.

Different social issues and corresponding locations were offered:

· Access to Sports and Recreation; Asheville, NC

· Accessibility for Persons with Disabilities; Tallahassee, FL

· Food and Housing Insecurity; Cincinnati, OH

· Coastal Restoration; Houston, TX

· Elementary Education; Plant City, FL

· Leadership Through Education; Immokalee, FL

· LGBTQ+ Solidarity; New York, NY

· Nutritional Support for Health Recovery; St. Louis, MO

· Refugee and Immigration Development; Decatur, GA

· Rural Poverty; Jonesboro, AR

· State Parks and Preservation; Surry, VA

· Urban Education; Washington, D.C.

· Urban Revitalization; Pittsburg, PA

· Youth Development; Omaha, Nebraska

Students are able to sign up for weekend, winter, spring and summer alternative breaks on the CMU alternative break OrgSync page.

For more information on alternative breaks they are able to go to the Mary Ellen Brandell Volunteer Center page or follow the group on Instagram @cmichab. 

“If anybody is scared to sign up for an alternative break, just know they really are some of the most fun you can have at college,” Norman said. “I’m very thankful this program exists and I found my home here.”