While the beach is a popular choice for students during breaks, volunteering through SMU’s Alternative Breaks program offers another opportunity.
Alternative Breaks is a student organization that offers direct service opportunities during each academic break. This year, students had the opportunity to go to cities like New York City, Indianapolis, Taos, N.M., Memphis, Tenn. or New Orleans for spring break.
Sophomore Paul Lujan, an environmental engineering major, went on the trip to Selma, Ala. The trip was focusing on civil rights by working with the organization Freedom Foundation.
“It was eye-opening,” Lujan said. “Schools were still segregated. I wasn’t expecting any of that.”
Lujan had previously been on two other trips, to Taos and Austin, Texas. In Taos, he taught kids at an understaffed charter school. Lujan ended up with an internship, friends and the teacher experience.
“I had such a good experience the first time,” he said. “ It’s a great way to go away for a week with people you don’t know. [It] broadens your horizons.”
Political science and human rights major Genesis Reed went to Selma. She worked within the school system and helped in the construction the of Teppers Building.
“It seemed like a great opportunity to experience a new side of this city,” Reed said.
One of the most touching experiences for Reed was having one-on-one reading time with the children. She answered questions about college and helped to dispel rumors about college life in their minds.
Talking with people who recognize the history of their town, and how much they are proud of it was one of the best parts for Reed. However, “leaving a city oppressed by poverty, separated by segregation and stifled by a lack of hope and not knowing how to help or if the week you spent meant” was the hardest part for her, she said.
Ten people went on the Selma trip. Usually, there are about seven to eight students on the trip, one staff advisor and two student site leaders per trip. Depending on the trip, students fly or drive.
Applicants are placed on trips in a first-come first-served basis. Usually trips fill up within a few minutes after the application goes live on the Alternative Break website. The trips cost from $100 to $300. The trip fee includes everything needed on the trip: food, transportation, housing and one day to explore the city.Students have lived in churches, retreat centers, volunteer houses and hostels during their trips. Lujan stayed at a cabin for his Taos trip.
“It’s the little things,” Lujan said. “We’re cooking all of our meals and bonding. I didn’t know any of those people before going on the trip.”
Lujan said he plans on continuing to go on Alternative Breaks.
“I think it’s the best way to spend a spring break,” Lujan said.