Alternative Breaks: Sparking a Passion for Service

Eight Michigan-based service opportunities are available to students during Fall Break Oct. 17-20.

<em>Students volunteer at the St. Vincent Island National Wildlife Refuge in Florida.</em><br>Students volunteer at the St. Vincent Island National Wildlife Refuge in Florida.
Every year students at Alma College are offered the opportunity to spend part of their breaks volunteering in communities across the country. This year, eight Michigan-based service activities are planned during the students’ four-day Fall Break Oct. 17-20.

“I love Alternative Breaks because they connect college students to communities at the local, regional and global levels,” says Hillsdale senior Katherine Vaillancourt, a second year co-chair of Alma’s Alternative Breaks program, third-year site leader and fourth-year participant.

Vaillancourt has served migrants and deportees at the U.S.-Mexico border. She also has participated in service projects that address domestic violence and women’s rights issues in Grand Rapids and urban food insecurity in Baltimore, Md.

“The best part of being involved with Alternative Breaks is more than taking the trips,” says Vaillancourt. “As a co-chair and site leader, I am able to help empower my peers and expand Alma College’s culture of service both on and off campus.”

The purpose of the Alternative Breaks program is to offer students the opportunity to spend time in generous service to others while traveling outside the Alma community, says Sallie Scheide, who coordinates service and leadership initiatives as assistant director of the Responsible Leadership Institute in the Center for Student Opportunity.

“I love to see the students grow through learning and serving and help define their passion that will translate into their day-to-day living,” says Scheide. “This fall we’re offering a larger number of opportunities in Michigan, so even if students are at home, there are options in Lansing, Grand Rapids and Detroit to serve for a few hours or all day from home.”

Last year, the non-profit organization Break Away ranked Alma College fifth in the nation in the percentage of students that participate in alternative break service trips. The organization offers workshops to train student leaders, which currently include Vaillancourt, Spring, Texas, sophomore Annika Gurrola and Sterling Heights senior Daniel Brandt.

“I really look forward to leading my first team,” says Gurrola, a co-chair for Alternative Breaks who has volunteered at Fort Street Presbyterian Church and Cass Community Social Services in Detroit and the St. Vincent Island National Wildlife Refuge.

“With Alternative Breaks, students can find their passion,” says Gurrola. “I am grateful for the opportunity to explore different social justice issues while serving a community. Alternative Breaks is a very unique program because of this.”

Alma College Alternative Breaks: Oct. 17-20, 2015

* Equine Therapy, HopeWell Ranch, Weidman
Students will participate in equine assisted therapy and assist in the preparation of a special event at the ranch.

* Children with Special Needs, The Fowler Center, Mayville
Volunteers will assist with activities — sports, horses, fishing, crafts, etc. — at a weekend camp for children with special needs.

• Hunger Issues, Greater Lansing Food Bank, Lansing
Students will volunteer in the warehouse sorting food items or in community gardens, or both.

• Hunger Issues, Kids’ Food Basket, Grand Rapids
Volunteers will prepare sack suppers for Grand Rapids children.

• Urban Farming, Earthworks Urban Farm, Detroit
Students will work on an organic farm in urban Detroit.

• Environmental Stewardship, Island Lake Recreation Area, Brighton
Volunteers will work at this outdoor park.

• Affordable Housing, Habitat for Humanity, Mount Pleasant
Students will assist with Habitat’s “A Brush With Kindness” projects at homes in Mount Pleasant.

• Keeping it Local, Campus and Community, Only One Alma
The Gratiot County Commission on Aging and Gratiot County United Way will identify local projects for student volunteers. Projects might include raking leaves, painting, home repairs or indoor office projects.

Story published on October 07, 2015