Students Show Support Through Alternative Breaks

Story by Krystal Black
Infographic by Megan Moomey
Photo courtesy of Central Michigan University Alternative Breaks

Each year, Central Michigan University students form and create opportunities to give their time and talent to others in need with the alternative breaks program. Through the Mary Ellen Brandell Volunteer Center, students sign up for seasonal breaks to help people throughout the United States, the world and right here in Michigan.

“Sign-ups haven’t happened quite yet, but there has been higher attendance at information meetings since the devastation [of both hurricanes Harvey and Irma],” said senior co-student coordinator Jennifer Peacock.

Mary Ellen Brandell Volunteer Center Assistant Director Erica Johnson said there is currently one scheduled break in Texas and four or five in Florida throughout areas that were affected by the hurricanes.

“There are three things we consider and do when planning our upcoming trips (in general), especially after large natural disasters like hurricanes. The first is that we reach out to our host and ask if there are any supplies we can send. Next, we ask what do they exactly need from us. Basically, what is the best way that we can help. Finally, we always consider our students’ safety when determining if we should make the trip,” Johnson said.

Johnson and Peacock said the alternative breaks program will not have a set schedule for trips that are planned in hurricane inflicted areas. They communicate with their partners in the areas to determine where they are needed and can help most. CMU may or may not travel to these areas; the goal is to help, not overwhelm.

The alternative breaks program will be 24 years old next year. From the time of their first trip to Red Bird Mission in Beverly, Kentucky in the spring of 1994, the program has expanded with more opportunities according to Johnson. Natural disasters are not the only places that students spend their time and talents helping because every community needs something different. They have developed long term relationships with programs as well as added new ones each year.

“We are there to learn and assist where people need help. We never tell the community what they need; we ask,” Peacock said.

No matter how big or small the break may seem, each one has the opportunity to impact communities and students in large ways. Senior Kayla Raulerson recalls her favorite break being only an hour from campus during the fall of her sophomore year.

“We went to Camp Newaygo on Halloween where we had an affordable ‘Halloweenfest’ for families with young kids,” Raulerson said.  “There was a little petting zoo area, face painting, costumes and more. It was so much fun to see these kids who have very little be able to have a memorable Halloween.”

“It’s a great way to challenge yourself, find a new community, or even passion. No matter why you sign up, it is a great way to learn something new,” Peacock said.

Official signups for winter breaks start Sept. 26 at 7:30 a.m. on the Mary Ellen Brandell Volunteer Center OrgSync page.