Think outside the box: Volunteer for an alternative summer break this year

Alternative summer breakAlthough spring break has passed by already, it’s not too early to plan ahead for how you’ll spend next year. Or better yet, plan to spend a portion of your summer break volunteering with an alternative break organization. Alternative spring break plans are gaining in popularity and some organizations have to limit the amount of applications accepted, so you’ll want to beat the pack.

What’s an alternative break?

An alternative break program is an opportunity for volunteers across the United States. College students (and high schoolers, in some programs) can volunteer to “trade swim trunks for tool belts,” as the United Way says. Alternative breaks are drug and alcohol free and have a strong focus on being student-led.

Programs such as Break Away: the Alternative Break Connection have been operating for over 20 years. Based out of Atlanta, Break Away’s mission is to “train, assist, and connect campuses and communities in promoting quality alternative break programs that inspire lifelong active citizenship.”

What can I expect to do on an alternative break?

Through the United Way, volunteers during the 2012 spring season traveled to different areas of the country and participated in such activities as:

  • Building homes for the needy
  • Helping families displaced by natural disasters (hurricanes, floods, etc.)
  • Tutoring local at-risk school children
  • Pairing with other local agencies such as the Boys & Girls Clubs and holding after-school enrichment programs

Trips through University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and the University YMCA are centered-around such concerns as:

  • Homelessness and poverty
  • Childhood illiteracy
  • Healthcare
  • Environmental issues

Santé Fe College’s Alternative Summer Break 2011 visited Tuscaloosa, Alabama, from June 24-28. Sante Fe’s program chooses a different site each trip to volunteer at and chose Tuscaloosa after it was devastated by a tornado in the spring of 2011.  During the trip, volunteers:

  • Removed debris from homes and yards
  • Bought local families grocery gift cards (used with money from fundraisers)
  • Worked with a supply distribution center to organize donations

What are the costs?

Each program can vary slightly depending on length of trip, amount of participants attending and what’s covered: housing, meals, transportation, etc. Here are a few programs to give you an idea of what you could expect to spend:

  • The University of Missouri posted in their FAQs that their program costs between $2,500-3,500 per student, but you’ll only be responsible for $200. The rest will come from university funding and lots of fundraisers!
  • The participant fee for the University of Michigan is $150 for the nine-day trip, though each site (which will have a max of 12 students and two leaders) will have to raise around $700 to cover housing and food costs. Scholarships are available, too.
  • Boston University’s weeklong trips ranged from $375-750 depending on mode of transportation. Included in the fee are meals for the trip.

Of course, all programs are built a bit differently and many combine a lot of fun with all that hard work! You’ll want to look into all the different options to find one that fits what you want.

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