This spring break, instead of hitting the beach or relaxing, some of Alma College’s students decided to give back to communities across the country. They spent their week-long break, Feb. 22 to Mar. 3, participating in Alternative Breaks.
Alternative Breaks are service trips that all students can participate in over the school breaks. “The purpose/ philosophy [of Alternative Breaks] is to learn about an issue, engage in a community where the issue is reality and reflect on the experience and its impact on the participant,” said Sally Scheide, Alma College’s Community Engagement Communicator.
These breaks encourage students to branch outside of their community and get hands-on experience with an issue of their choice. It enables students to expand their community outreach with the Alternative Break program covering the meals, lodging and travel costs. The program covers all expenses besides the initial participation fee.
“The current design of our Alternative Break program began in 2003 as part of a grant funded initiative,” said Scheide. Alma College incorporated Alternative Breaks, and continues to use them, as a way to not only encourage students to serve, but to follow Alma’s mission of serving generously and leading purposefully.
The goal of these breaks is to show students that there are many opportunities across the country for students to get involved and help out in.
When it comes to picking what sites to send students to, participants and site leaders inputs are taken into consideration. “We also look at national trends through our connections with Break Away, a non-profit that serves as a network for Alternative Break programs across the country. Affordability and distance are also a consideration,” said Scheide.
Alma looks to find diverse breaks for students to participate in in order to expand their knowledge on the site’s issue and network.
For this Spring Break, Alma offered five different Alternative Breaks for students to participate in across the country: Food Insecurity in Asheville, North Carolina, Rural Poverty in Guyan Valley, West Virginia, Health care in Memphis, Tennessee, the Congaree National Park in South Carolina, and the Mystery National Park also known as the Mammoth Caves.
Each break is open to anyone and typically involves a max of twelve students per excursion with site leaders and co-leaders. “There are 2 (sometimes 1) student site leader for each excursion. We have 3 students as co-leaders of the program,” said Scheide.
Co-President of Alternative Breaks, Erin Goggins(’19), who has been an active member in Alternative Breaks since her freshman year, was a site leader for the Conagree National Park excursion for environmental stewardship. She picked the break out of her interest for National Park Service and drive to protect our environment.
“I truly enjoy being able to help out the National Parks and I always learn something from the rangers and other volunteers while I am there,” said Goggins.
Because of her interest in Alternative Breaks, she decided to accept the role of being a site leader, which entails planning trip logistics and working with Sallie Scheide or other site leaders.
“I chose to accept this position because I am very passionate about Alternative Breaks and they have given me a lot of experiences and education that I would not have received otherwise. That is something that I want to continue and grow at Alma College,” said Goggins.
This Alternative Break consisted of cleaning the National Park in accordance to the Americans with Disabilities Act and a controlled burn that the park was doing later.
Each break offered something different for students to experience and take from their experience.
Senior Savanah Warners(’19) participated in the Alternative Break to Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky.
“We spent four days at the Park, where we worked with a park ranger to remove invasive plant species and help with general maintenance. Our break also had a free day, which we used to tour Mammoth Cave and visit waterfalls in the park,” said Warners.
Students like Warners can use Alternative Breaks as a way to solidify their interest in their chosen major. Because of this, she continued to participate in Alternative Breaks throughout her time at Alma and even went back to the site that she visited her freshman year.
“This year, I chose to go to the same destination because of the impact the trip had on me as a freshman, so I thought it would be great to revisit as a senior in a leadership role,” said Warners. Alternative Breaks tend to have a lasting effect on students, which is not only why they have been around since 2003, but why students participate in more than one.
Senior, Christopher Nolan (’19), participated as a site leader in food insecurity at the YMCA in Asheville, North Carolina.
“The issue the alt break was addressing interested me — seeing how I was uneducated on the problem at hand. I went on the service trip in hopes to learn more about what’s at stake with food insecurity and how I can better educate and serve my community,” said Nolan.
Students go on Alternative Breaks to better the community, themselves and the country. It allows students to educate themselves on topics they may be curious about, while benefiting the community and issue they are helping.
“It is through these programs that we can create communities of well-educated and empathetic people willing to stand up to injustice,” said Nolan.
Alternative Breaks are a way for students to branch out and make a difference in not only a community, but the world around them.
“I think it is important for Alma College to offer Alternative Breaks because it gives students away to give back and provides them with an understanding that there is more to life than what’s on our campus,” said Goggins.