Alternative Breaks and Social Inclusion

Alternative Breaks are what you get when you mix social justice, meaningful action, and opportunity with a group of college students. These breaks capitalize on university closings to provide an immersive experience for students to understand social issues as they exist in communities locally and globally. The takeaway is that students will learn how and why they should make their community a priority in their values and choices.

Alternative breaks logo

Alternative Breaks and Social Justice

Each AB experience is focused on a select social justice topic and takes place in a community that requires participants to step outside of their comfort zone and get away from the distractions of their everyday lives. This provides a space for them to concentrate and reflect on the direct service they are providing. Whether it is disaster relief in New Orleans, Native American youth education in Oklahoma, or shoe distributions in Guatemala, students return back to the UNA and Shoals community with a fresh perspective of active citizenship and what that needs to look like in their own home.

AB students in Maryville, NC
AB students in Maryville, NC (Native American education and environmentalism)

One of the most impactful and unique opportunities in the Alternative Breaks program is the student leadership piece. Each trip is decided on, organized, and lead completely by students; peers leading peers and having a meaningful experience together. Student Site Leaders have the ability to choose the location and social issue of their trip. Are you interested in preserving wildlife along the coast or educating inner-city elementary students about financial literacy? Great! Those are the experiences that Site Leaders get to decide on and make happen, but it does not stop there. Student Site Leaders spend countless hours communicating with partner organizations about logistics of the trip, recruiting participants, and planning pre-trip meetings. The Site Leader position is a valued experience and one that you cannot find just anywhere.

AB Site Leaders 2018
AB Site Leaders 2018

The Eight Components of an AB Experience

The meat of an Alternative Breaks trip incorporates the Eight Components of a Quality Break. These components, developed by a nationwide alternative break resource (Break Away), are organized in a way that allows participants to have the greatest impact on an AB trip. The Alternative Breaks program at UNA will never send a student into a place or situation completely blind. There are pre-trip meetings that include education about the location and social justice topic, orientation into working with the selected community partner, and training on any skills necessary for the direct-service. Students also participate in a nightly reflection to process their experience and discuss opportunities of how they can use what they are learning from their trip to continue serving their own community when they get home. The goal of AB trips is to help support the students into becoming active citizens where service becomes more of a lifestyle.

Over the past nine years, the AB program has assisted in building outdoor classrooms in Haiti, restoring large cat enclosures at a wildlife sanctuary in North Carolina, organizing meal backpacks for children that are at-risk for human trafficking in Atlanta, and so much more. Students have served in communities as close as Huntsville, Alabama and as far away as Costa Rica. Ultimately, the students that participate on the Alternative Breaks trips return home with a better understanding of direct service and the motivation to continue it in their own community.

Getting Involved in the AB Program

This academic year is expected to be the biggest year that the Alternative Breaks program at UNA has had so far. There will be two AB trips during the Winter Break weekend in February, two Spring Break domestic trips in March, and two Spring Break international trips in March. Each trip will consist of a group of 12 participants, including two UNA faculty or staff partners, and the student Site Leaders. To participate on a trip, students must complete an application for the trips that they are interested in and participate in an interview process. Any UNA student is eligible to join an Alternative Breaks trip regardless of classification.

AB students in Guatemala
AB students in Guatemala (Soles4Souls shoe distribution)

Each trip does come with a fee that is required of all participants. To alleviate the financial burden on the students, the Alternative Breaks program coordinates countless fundraising efforts. A long-term goal is to raise enough funds to create a scholarship that participants can apply for to help reduce the cost of their site fee. Whether that scholarship helps to pay for their first passport, a plane ticket, or their food for the week, money should not eliminate the opportunity of an Alternative Breaks experience.

Imagine if everyone in the world did their part in contributing back to society. Alternative Breaks are created to foster the personal growth of our students to be contributing members of society. These experiences challenge them to think critically and compassionately—and to understand that there’s no such thing as “not my problem.”