Changing the world one break at a time

Photo courtesy of Alternative Breaks. 

Giselle Cancio/Contributing Writer 

Winter break for most students means going out late, sleeping in and perhaps a vacation or two. For one group of students, the beginning of their winter break consisted of a service trip.

Freshman communications major Kassandra Banko said the children’s Christmas lists at the homeless shelter where she worked was impacting.

“They wanted things like shampoo, conditioner, interview clothing — things I usually take for granted and consider a necessity rather than a wish,” said Banko.

The Center for Leadership and Service’s Alternative Breaks organizes community service trips like this: a hands-on approach to service learning where student groups travel to different states and countries, participating in service projects.

The program traveled to Atlanta this past break. Banko participated in the program and worked with people in poverty and at-risk youth.

Alternative Breaks (In front of the shelter.)

Members of the Alternative Breaks group that traveled to Atlanta during the winter break pose in front of the Covenant House.
Photo courtesy of Alternative Breaks.

She worked with the Medici project and went to the Covenant House, a homeless shelter, every morning. At the shelter, the group would help with different things such as organizing Christmas gifts, wrapping and cleaning.

“It impacted me knowing that it was a homeless shelter for children around my age,” Banko said.

In addition to the shelter, the students volunteered at Sylvan Middle School and helped tutor the children while assisting the teachers in the classroom. The school was home to many students from low-income families.

“The children’s backpacks were transparent, there were metal detectors at the door and some children barely had a pencil to write with,” Banko recalled. “I had never seen anything like that, especially at a middle school.”

“By the end of the trip, our group was attached to the kids and I think our main goal was to leave them with a seed in their hearts to continue school and strive to be the best,” said Kelly Ibarra, sophomore communication arts major.

Each trip consists of two site leaders and multiple participants. Before the trip itself, monthly workshops are used to train, educate and prepare the participants for their experience.

The group’s steering committee has site research chairs that communicate with organizations and establish a partnership. Based on the site leaders choice of social issue, the locations are spread amongst the groups.

Following the Alternative Breaks philosophy “changing the world one break at a time,” trips are done in the summer, winter and spring.

The sites can range from within the United States to an international site like the Bahamas.

The different social issues Alternative Breaks supports are at-risk youth, environment, animal rights, LGBT, homelessness, poverty, health, education, immigration, social justice and women’s rights.

Catherine Cruz, junior social work major, was the site leader for the Atlanta trip.

“I applied to be a site leader because [Alternative Breaks] had given me the chance to be a part of something bigger than myself,” Cruz said. “I was given the opportunity to give back to a different community and see other individuals leave an impact and grow exponentially as active citizens and leaders.”

As a site leader, Cruz was in charge of managing all the logistics for the service, serving as the communication between the site contact and the participant and arranging all fundraising efforts for the group. She also picked the social issue, choosing poverty because she says a little help goes a long way with it.

“Alternative Breaks is a life changing experience that everyone should give a chance to, it allows you to take the first step into being the change you want to see in the world,” Cruz said. 

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