Alt-break returns this spring

By Kevin Hong

Every year, the Grinnell College Community Service Office financially supports the Alternative Break program, which provides opportunities for students to experience the world outside Grinnell during their fall and spring breaks.

Service, communal living and simplicity are the core values of Alternative Break. The participants are expected to engage in the communities that they serve, and bring their experience back to share with other Grinnellians.

There will be six trips led by students this spring break. Participants will have the opportunity to volunteer all over the country, in South Dakota, Missouri, Iowa, Georgia, North Carolina and Texas. As usual, no faculty or staff will be on the trip, and students will have full responsibility for their actions. Participants will have the chance to volunteer at local schools, explore immigration issues, and understand environmental problems.

“We structured a trip where participants would get to engage in physical service, interact with local community members and use entrepreneurial, problem-solving skills (Grinnellian strengths) to fill a real and tangible need for the organization,” said Kathy Andersen ’13, one of the leaders of the St. Louis trip. “Working with an immigrant and refugee service institute in St. Louis, we’re going outside of the classroom to explore themes surrounding the incorporation of new Americans, multiracial societies and capacity building.”

Leaders can find information on Breakaway, a website that provides host information throughout the country as well as information to devise their own trip. These trips are usually 10 days long, with each trip consisting of ten people and two leaders.

“We try to have students from all class years and backgrounds to have a chance,” said Radka Slamova ’13, a coordinator for the Altbreak trip.
However, priorities are given to those who have never participated in Altbreak trip as well as those who can drive.

“If you are a driver, you have a much higher chance of getting in,” Slamova said.

This year, trip leaders were chosen earlier to allow more time for planning the trips.

“Usually, we choose leaders about now, and later we choose participants. That has been shifted in order to better respect our community partners and be more intentional about building relationships and developing skills related to the issues that we are going to be working with,” said Susan Sanning, Community Service Coordinator.

This way, the participants will actually be together with their groups for a longer period of time before the trip.

“It’s important that the trips are not simply driven by services. We are coming in to give the organizations something,” Sanning said.

The selection process is name-blind. Students will need to indicate their preferences, but the trip leaders select participant based on the application essay questions. There is a participation fee of $120 for participants, but financial assistance is also available to those in need.

“It’s not going to be a group of best friends getting together, but people who care about the issue,” Sanning said. “We want the mutuality where the community partners are saying ‘this is what we need’ and the students are saying ‘this is what we have’ and those two things match in a way that is respectful.”

To apply to participate, go to, sign up and fill out your profile. Then, find the Grinnell page, and choose “Altbreak” under “Join an Org” or “Organizations.” The application will be under “forms” on the left side of your screen, where you can also find a financial aid form. Applications are due by Friday, February 8th at midnight. Questions about the process can be directed to [altbreak] or [sannings].