Choose an issue, change a life

GVL / Archive
Last years Alternative Breaks participants Sara Niester (left) and Jessica MacVane (right) rake leaves at CHRIS Kids community foster care home in Atlanta, Ga.

GVL / Archive Last years Alternative Breaks participants Sara Niester (left) and Jessica MacVane (right) rake leaves at CHRIS Kids community foster care home in Atlanta, Ga.

Erin Grogan

This year, Alternative Breaks, a student-led service advocacy organization at Grand Valley State University, will send students on a total of 19 service trips.

“We don’t release the location of the trips,” said Alison von Werder, president of Alternative Breaks. “Our trips are issue-based. We want people to choose where they go based on the type of service, not the location.”

Different types of service opportunities are offered on the trips, including work with the environment, elderly and underprivileged people.

Ellyn Goncer, a junior at GVSU, has been on two trips with Alternative Breaks. During spring break of her freshman year, Goncer went on a national trip that focused on the issue of hunger and homelessness. She also went on a regional trip during the winter break of her sophomore year, which focused on community development.

“Alternative Breaks is the reason I stayed at Grand Valley,” Goncer said. “I love it—volunteering is my life. You get to see from start to finish what you accomplished. You know you make an impact.”

Students can choose between regional and national trips during spring and winter breaks, von Werder said. Regional trips can be located up to four hours away, are about four days long and cost $100. National trip locations can be up to a 24 hour drive or less, are about a week long and cost $250.

The costs of trips are reduced through fundraising and scholarships. Some of the fundraisers include selling pizza kits and scaring people at Forest of Fear. The money produced from fundraisers goes to pay for students’ individual trips, or can be donated to Alternative Breaks’ general fund, von Werder said.

While Alternative Breaks is not a faith-based organization, they often connect with churches and nonprofit organizations in an attempt to provide free housing.

“Housing often depends on the location of the trip,” von Werder said. “If it’s a nature trip, participants may stay in a cabin. We might not stay in five-star hotels, but the places we do stay in are comfortable.”

When they come back to GVSU, students can work with Alternative Breaks and the Community Service Learning Center with the same types of service issues. Alternative Breaks also offers a monthly service opportunity called Service Saturdays, where participants volunteer with organizations in the local community.

“We want to bring the things learned on trips back home to the Grand Rapids community,” von Werder said. “We try to help students find places in the Grand Rapids area that stay with the issue they worked with on their trip.”

Alternative Breaks is not the only organization that offers service trips to GVSU students. According to the Community Service Learning Center’s website, Campus Ministry sends over 400 students on trips during spring break.

Jeffrey Mutch, CSLC coordinator, said that students can also talk to the Padnos International Center about incorporating service into their time abroad. The CSLC also offers local volunteer opportunities.

“Alternative Breaks is different from other organizations because service is their entire purpose and they are a completely student-led organization,” Mutch said. “Our office only supports them while they make decisions so all the pieces fall in place correctly.”

The CSLC helps to promote Alternative Breaks and the fact that their service trips are open to anybody.

“Alternative Breaks is a year-long opportunity, and individuals can choose to what degree they want to engage in service,” Mutch said.

Students must fill out application forms for service trips through OrgSync, and pay a $5 application fee to the CSLC. Applications are due Nov. 15.

Alternative Breaks will be holding a general informational meeting at 8 p.m. on Oct. 21 in the Pere Marquette room of the Kirkhof Center.

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