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Students Serve Through Alternative Breaks

“Engaging in service to others, particularly when paired with dialogue and reflection, is a great way to learn about both our world and our own values, skills and goals.” — Carla Jensen

Alterative Break students at Everglades National Park.Alterative Break students at Everglades National Park.Alternative Breaks give Alma College students a chance to serve communities on their time off from class in addition to developing leadership skills.

Students will participate in volunteer work during their fall break, Oct. 12-15, at a trio of mid-Michigan sites.

“There are so many good reasons to get involved with Alternative Breaks,” says Carla Jensen, assistant director of the Venture Program and Off-Campus Study. “In addition to learning about social and environmental issues and making a positive impact on their host site by serving in solidarity with the host community, participants tell us that it’s a great way to make friends and have fun.”

Alternative Breaks are open to all students. The service teams are made up of usually 6-to-12 students, and the length of the trips vary from one-to-five days.

“Engaging in service to others, particularly when paired with dialogue and reflection, is a great way to learn about both our world and our own values, skills and goals,” says Jensen. “The program gives students an opportunity to engage in service, leadership and vocational exploration – asking ourselves, how do we build meaningful, fulfilling lives and how do we make a positive contribution to our society?”

Past participants and student leaders take part in the process of selecting Alternative Breaks sites. They identify what students are interested in and where that intersects with community needs.

Clean-up at Everglades National Park.Clean-up at Everglades National Park.Alma College also works with Break Away, a national nonprofit group dedicated to the development of Alternative Breaks. This group provides resources that help schools identify organizations that are interested in hosting Alternative Break groups and sites that have worked well in the past.

“I hope that Alternative Breaks provide students with a positive experience of service and leadership and encourages them to become or remain engaged citizens,” says Jensen.

Mackenzie Hemmer, an Alma College senior from Wolverine, attended a spring 2018 Alternative Break in Maryland. The group helped a dog shelter repair an old fence that had fallen as well as clean up the kennels and other areas.

“My biggest takeaway from this experience was how much I learned from another culture,” says Hemmer. “I was immersed in an entirely different world, which helped expose me to someone else’s norms and expectations.

“I definitely recommend that other students participate—even if it’s just once,” says Hemmer. “It’s a great learning experience. You learn so much about others and different cultures, you meet different people, and you learn a lot about yourself in the process.”

Recent Alternative Breaks have included environmental stewardship in the Everglades and Biscayne National Parks in Florida, animal welfare work at the Horse Creek Wildlife Sanctuary and Animal Refuge in Tennessee, and addressing hunger and homelessness at the Center for the Homeless in Indiana, as well as a variety of service initiatives in mid-Michigan.

Fall 2019 Alternative Breaks opportunities include the following:

  • Forest Hill Nature Preserve, Gratiot County, Saturday, Oct. 12. Students will potentially add wood chips to trails, remove invasive plants and address other activities to aid the preserve.
  • William and Janet Strickler Nonprofit Center, Mount Pleasant, Monday, Oct. 14. Students will sort donations, stock shelves and assist in the pantries.
  • Wilcox Nonprofit Center and RISE Advocacy, Alma, Tuesday, Oct. 15. Students will sort donations.

Alma College students will have additional opportunities for Alternative Breaks Dec. 15-22 as well as during Winter Break in February.

Story published on September 30, 2019