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Altbreak pauses to reformulate priorities

By Alyce Eaton

Upcoming changes in the Alternative Break (AltBreak) program mean that there will be no AltBreak trips this semester. One of the main changes is selecting leaders earlier, which will leave more time for planning trips and skill development for participants.

AltBreak trips are service trips led by students, usually held over fall and spring breaks.

“We’re really taking time to refocus on our core values, so we’re going through a development change in the model that we’ve used,” said Tyler Banas ’14, one of the student AltBreak coordinators.

The program, previously overseen by Doug Cutchins ’93, Director of Social Commitment, recently transferred over to Susan Sanning, Community Service Coordinator. There is also a group of student AltBreak coordinators, consisting this semester of Banas, Bonnie Brooks ’15, Shanna Nichols ’13, Noah Most ’13, Cynthia Amezcua ’14 and Zhanni Gao ’14, who help plan the trips and organize the program itself.

“We do want to emphasize that this is the only fall semester in which there will be no AltBreak,” Amezcua said.

Previously, student leaders would be chosen in the same semester as their trip, so applications to lead a fall break trip would have been due just a few weeks ago, but from now on, the application timeline for every trip will be lengthened.

“We’ll be selecting trip leaders and their issues after fall break sometime and next semester, right at the beginning of the semester, we’ll be selecting participants,” Most said.

The change will loosen the previously tight schedule and allow more time for student leaders to develop their trips.

“What we’ve found is that we’ve been very insensitive to our community partners … because we have leaders that get their trips arranged and they apply, [but] we don’t have money to send all the trips … so people have to call their host organizations and say, ‘We’re actually not coming,’” Banas said. “We want to stop doing that. It’s not a good message to send to community partners.”

A longer period of planning will also allow more leadership training for the students heading the trips.

“One of the core things we’re trying to implement this semester is just really focusing on the leadership training—we want something that’s more intentional,” Brooks said.

Besides benefiting the trip leaders, this restructuring will give participants time to learn and prepare for their service.

“There [will be] time to develop skills. [If] a community partner has said, ‘we really want you to learn how to roof,’ or it might be that you’re learning some farming skills because you’re working to help a farmer become organic,” Sanning said, “this makes it so that those kinds of pieces are much more intentional, both from a leadership and participant perspective.”

This new format will strengthen the issue-based, rather than place-based, component of AltBreaks. Before, leaders would apply for both a destination and an issue for the trip.

“Now, since we have more time to coordinate the location and everything, the leader pairs will apply for just the issue that they want to work with,” Banas said. “They’ll be welcome to suggest a couple different locations where they could do work, but that’s not the emphasis—the emphasis is on what issue they want to battle.”

“The focus becomes service rather than a vacation destination,” Sanning added.

Issues on which AltBreaks can be based range from broad topics such as “environmental justice” to something as specific as “the environmental effects of CAFOs on the shallow wells of poor farmers surrounding the confinement operations in Tillery, North Carolina.” The only things off the table are ones promoting specific political or religious beliefs, due to AltBreak’s non-profit status.

“We want people who would be interested in leading a trip for next spring break to start thinking about what issues they’d want to deal with, because those applications will be coming out soon after fall break,” Banas said.

For students still looking for a service trip this fall break, ReNew will be going to Cedar Rapids. ReNew, an organization formed to rebuild parts of New Orleans damaged by Hurricane Katrina, is making some changes in leadership as well.

“ReNew is shifting their leadership model into something that’s more akin to the Red Cross, so add water and go—something that can be responsive to disaster relief,” Sanning said. “They’re not focusing on New Orleans anymore … so it might even be that a ReNew trip goes for a weekend to a town an hour north of here and does some disaster relief.”

Information sessions about the ReNew trip will be held on Tuesday and Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. in ARH 102. Or, if you are interested in working on local community service projects over Fall Break, email Susan Sanning at [sannings].

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