Grand Valley State University works hard to ensure that students have the opportunity to not only make a difference on campus, but off of it as well. One of the ways GVSU does this is through the Alternative Breaks (AB) program, which allows students to apply to one of the program’s many trips to do some volunteer work during their time off from school. This year, over 150 students chose to participate in alternative break trips.
The Alternative Breaks program sends students out on week-long service learning volunteer trips during the winter and spring break to different cities anywhere from four to 24 driving hours from GVSU. Each trip focuses on specific social or environmental topics ranging from Nutrition and Wellness, Refugee Awareness to Park Preservation. Each trip is unique and provides students unforgettable opportunities to help those less fortunate and learn about making a difference while gaining valuable experience and volunteer hours.
This year, there were 14 different alternative break trips with about nine to 14 students on each trip including two site leaders. Participants attend large AB orientation events which discuss the program’s mission, vision and values and have two pre-trip meetings for education specifically on their trip’s topic.
During the trips, site leaders plan a reflection every night where participants reflect on what they did and learned that day during service and how it applies to their own life. AB Program PresidentHolly Tumbarello, AB Program President, said that education before, during, and after the trips helps students get the most out of their experience.
“I like to think that GVSU AB is the Laker Effect, we really encourage education on the different topics beforehand,” Tumbarello said. “Before participants go on the trip, they learn about how these issues impact the world on a local and national scale. Reflection is often one of our participants’ favorite parts about AB.”
All of the trips work with different non-profit projects around the country. Some of this year’s organizations GVSU partnered with were the Ohio Veterans Home, the Hiawasee River Watershed Coalition, and Windmill Animal Rescue. Many of these organizations have been visited more than once, multiple years in a row and GVSU faculty have a solid relationship with a number of them. The GV AB staff try to keep some of the locations and organizations a surprise for students who sign up, and are always looking for new opportunities and organizations to work alongside.
One of the trips worked closely with the Cherokee Nation, and the Dry Creek Community Center in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, during which students volunteered their time on repairing a kitchen floor that had caved in due to water damage. On this trip, students were also able to work very closely with members of Cherokee Nation and learn about various social issues and cultural traditions in the area.
One of the trip’s site leaders, Carolyn Morgan, said the opportunity to learn about and engage in Native American culture was a valuable experience for students. She said that she hopes students were able to learn more about themselves during the trips and be able to share and reflect on their experiences in a positive way.
“I hope that the participants this year were able to personally grow in some way, whether it was being more comfortable with being away from home, becoming more open-minded or challenging any of their previously held stereotypes about Native American communities,” Morgan said. “A big part of AB is learning about yourself through the various topics we cover, so I would call it a very successful trip if everyone walked away feeling as if they had touched base with their core values through the service and learning that we did.”
Tumbarello said that the GVSU AB executive board hopes to continue to plan trips for the future, however the spread of COVID-19 has complicated their schedule. Due to the virus, many of AB’s reorientation events had to be cancelled or postponed. Tumbarello said that the GVSU AB program is perfect for students who want to give back, and that it will continue to provide safe opportunities for students to do so into the future.
“AB is an amazing group to grow with and learn from so I hope students push themselves as a leader as well as their knowledge on the world,” Tumbarello said. “As one of the largest student organizations on campus, there’s so many people with diverse perspectives. The issues we talk about have changed how I view the world and I hope it helps others do the same.”
For additional info on Alternative Breaks, visit their website.