A Break from the Usual: Alternative Breaks and Humbling Experiences

Central Michigan University provides endless opportunities for students to get involved, but one valuable program at our university is Alternative Breaks.

This program gives students the great opportunity of helping citizens throughout an array of communities by participating in direct-service. Alternative Breaks allow students to gain charitable experiences through volunteer work and help make a difference in the lives of others.

Alternative Breaks occur on winter, spring, summer and weekend breaks, where sites pair with a non-profit organization to work on specific issues that occur in the community.

Katia Koerner, 20, from Saline, Mich. found her CMU alternative break to be a very humbling experience.

Koerner and other students went on the Uplifting Children and Families alternative spring break in Washington D.C. last year where they volunteered at Beacon House, a non-profit community based organization that provides tutoring, mentoring and other programs to children who are at-risk and come from low-income homes.

We worked with students from 5- to 18-years-old after their school day on their homework and just hung out with them until their parents came to pick them up,” Koerner said.  “We also helped out with their Saturday science club and their black history month performance.”

According to Koerner, within the Edgewood community where Beacon House is located, there are many at-risk youth that need help and mentoring.

“The majority of the students at Beacon House have working parents so Beacon House is a great place for students to come after school,” Koerner said. “They get help on their homework, they get an extra meal and they are surrounding by mentors and people that care about them. Beacon House also gives out scholarships to its graduating students each year by helping some student who might have never attended college get to attend.”

Participating in an alternative breaks is as beneficial for students as it is the people they are helping by giving students new perspectives.

“Going on an alternative break is a great experience,” Koerner said. “It really humbles you to bigger issues out in the world. You are donating your time for an entire week and immersing yourself in something bigger than yourself.”

Koerner said it is also common to learn something new about yourself as well.

“You are surrounded by people you’ve never met before and it really makes you take a look at yourself and immerse yourself in the service that you are doing,” Koerner said. “Plus you really learn about other people, especially the people you’re volunteering with. The site leaders on your alternative break create bonding activities for the whole week and you get to know a lot about the people you are with.”

Angela Elrod, 21, from Fenton, Mich. will be attending her first alternative break this semester on the Uplifting Children and Families spring break at The Nest, a children and families center, in Lexington, Ky.

Elrod is going on the break so that she can make a difference in the lives of others. She has heard from previous participants about how amazing their experience was, leading her to sign up so she could make her mark in a new community in a positive way.

“I am hoping to make an impact on the children and families I come in contact with,” Elrod said. “I hope I can help them in the center and really make a difference in their life.”

Elrod thinks that if the students have a chance, they should give alternative breaks a shot because they could make a bigger difference than they realize.

“Students should go on an alternative break because it gives them a chance to give back to a community and make a difference,” Elrod said. “It also gives you an opportunity to go outside of your comfort zone and do something new.”

To learn more about Alternative Breaks and other volunteer programs, visit the Mary Ellen Brandall Volunteer Center in the lower level of the Bovee University Center.