EKU Students Volunteer to Serve Communities across U.S. during Alternative Spring Break

photo from New Orleans

Students from Eastern Kentucky University volunteered with non-profit agencies in eight cites from New York City to New Orleans and from Myrtle Beach to Decatur, Ala., during their spring break March 11-15.

An alternative spring break trip is a trip where a group of college students, usually 10-12 per trip, engage in volunteer service for a week as a counter to "traditional" spring break trips.

“This is EKU’s sixth year running alternative spring breaks,” said Brian Perry, assistant director of student life. “Alternative Break trips are an exciting opportunity for students to learn about important social issues through a mix of service and education activities. They also provide the chance to travel and explore new areas of the country to students who might not otherwise be able to afford to do so.”

The Alternative Break Program strives to offer trips addressing a variety of social issues such as HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention, affordable housing, disaster relief and recovery, and environmental stewardship. Students learn more about the issue in conjunction with volunteering at local non-profit organizations. 

“Alternative Breaks challenge students to critically think about and react to problems faced by members of the communities they are involved with,” Perry said. “Being immersed in diverse environments enables participants to experience, discuss, and understand social issues in a significant way.”

Because the trips focus on different social issues, the service can vary dramatically. The team at the Outer Banks volunteered with The Nature Conservancy and worked on oyster bed restorations and trail maintenance. The team in New Orleans continued to work on rebuilding homes destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. In New York, the team volunteered with AIDS Walk NYC and helped get supplies ready for the major event that raises money for over 40 local non-profits fighting HIV/AIDS. The two teams that volunteered with local Habitat for Humanity affiliates in Charleston and Myrtle Beach, S.C. laid a foundation, hung drywall, painted, put up siding, and built a porch. Two teams volunteered with after-school programs, helping with homework, leading projects, and just interacting with the kids. The team in Washington, D.C. volunteered at a local food bank sorting incoming donations and packing boxes for distribution.

For the first time this year, the Alternative Spring Break program was a collaborative effort with University Housing.

Jessica Watts, a residence hall coordinator, said: “Not only did I build great relationships with my students, but was able to help many others in Charleston in the process. The alternative spring break experience is one I will never forget and highly encourage others to take part in one.  Even the smallest act of helping others makes great ripples in our world, leading to great changes.  To be a part of something like that is once in a lifetime and simply amazing.”

Sarah Lavender, a senior from Ashland and the student trip leader for the HIV/AIDS awareness trip to New York City, is another example of the transformative nature of the trips.

“This was my third break volunteering in New York around HIV/AIDS issues,” she said. “The first trip made such an impact on me that I changed my career focus from forensic science to public health and have applied to related post-graduation AmeriCorps positions for this fall.”

Dr. Mike Reagle, associate vice president for student affairs, went on the trip to Myrtle Beach for the second time.

“It was our second year partnering with Habitat for Humanity Horry County chapter and we had a blast,” Reagle said.  “The experience was extremely memorable both for the work that we did for Habitat, but also for the phenomenal group of students I got to serve with. They are truly such a great example of the type of students we have here at EKU.”

The mission of the EKU Alternative Break Program is to provide opportunities for students to develop into engaged and mindful citizens who think about, and engage in, service to meet needs in their communities. The EKU Alternative Break Program places teams of students in communities across the United States and the world to engage in volunteer service and experiential learning during fall, winter, spring, and summer breaks. An EKU Alternative Break trip is an immersion experience in the community – students experience different cultural, environmental, and socioeconomic backgrounds. While meeting identified community needs through service, students learn about the social and cultural issues facing the host communities.

For more information on EKU’s Alternative Break Program, visit communityservice.eku.edu.

Published on March 29, 2013