Alternative Breaks celebrates 25 years at GVSU

GVL / Courtesy - Ryker Huizinga
Alternative break trips

GVL / Courtesy – Ryker Huizinga Alternative break trips

Rachel Huck

Grand Valley State University offers a wide array of organizations and volunteer opportunities for students to get involved. From a cappella to beekeeping and even ballroom dancing, there is something to suit everyone. One of GVSU’s more well-known student organizations is Alternative Breaks.

“The organization aims to send out service trips across the country during school breaks: winter, spring and summer, to promote active citizenship,” said Jennifer Lee, who has been on multiple trips through Alternative Breaks. “Students who get involved get the opportunity to go on one of the trips.”

The parent organization of Alternative Breaks (AB), known as Break Away, was founded in 1991 at Vanderbilt University, now consisting of 200 chapters. GVSU’s chapter of AB is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year.

“Once they reach their destination, students work with different nonprofit organizations to serve and learn more about new communities,” said Ryker Huizinga, public relations representative of the organization. “When students return from their trips, AB works to create new opportunities for groups to volunteer locally and continue to apply what they have learned.”

During the 2014-15 school year, AB participants clocked in 2,250 hours of service and estimated an economic impact of about $49,803. The 2015-16 year is expected to exceed this amount.

“We offer the opportunity for students to immerse themselves in different environmental and social issues on the trip,” Lee said. “AB also strives to help students meet new people who have different interests than themselves and tries to make each trip filled with people who have diverse majors, interests and experiences.

“The group differences allows each student to learn from others and hopefully make for new experiences.”

GVSU’s chapter is one of the only Alternative Breaks in the country that is primarily student-led.

“Community is our priority. We strive to cultivate active citizenship among all of our members,” Huizinga said. “We challenge our members to ask difficult questions and reflect on what their roles should be in addressing important social and environmental issues.

“In sending students to serve different communities across the country, we hope they will be transformed in a way that will motivate them to bring back what they’ve learned and apply it in their own communities.”

Alternative Breaks at GVSU has progressed significantly throughout the years. During its first year, only one spring break trip was offered. For 2016, a total of 23 trips are being offered: five in the winter, 15 in the spring and three in the summer.

“The best thing about going on an AB trip is getting into a van with 11 people you barely know and coming home as a tightly knit group,” Lee said. “My trips are amazing and each one teaches me more about myself.”

In addition to trips, AB coordinates many other events that are free and open to all GVSU students. Some upcoming events include “Service Saturday with Family Promise” on March 19, and “Transformation Tuesday: Human Trafficking Awareness” on Jan. 26.

“Alternative Breaks is a fantastic way to get out of your comfort zone and learn more about the world, other people and yourself,” Huizinga said. “It’s an organization that broadens your horizons and helps you to become a well-rounded individual and excellent leader. I’ve made many lasting friendships on AB trips, and it’s definitely the most rewarding aspect for me.”

To learn more about Alternative Breaks or to apply to upcoming trips visit