Alternative Breaks for Fall Break

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Students with Alternative Breaks pose in Altus, Ark. during fall break last year. (Courtesy of Molly O’Connor)

Four days of no classes. Four days to do nothing, or to do something. Why not do something with that time?

Here is where the Alternative Breaks, or “AB,” program comes in. AB is a student organization that offers different service opportunities during every academic break – including fall, winter, spring, summer, and some weekends. A group of students and faculty travel to different communities in need across the country, making a difference.

“I love the fact that our organization allows students to engage in direct service work while making a positive impact on needy communities locally and globally,” Danielle Katz, Student Director for AB, said.

There are four different trips available for this Fall Break. The first one aims to help domestic violence. SMU will partner with the Genesis Women’s Shelter in Dallas to sort and collect donations at the Genesis Thrift Store – a store that receives over 300 donations a day and raises close to $1 million each year. The Thrift Store gives women and children necessary items at no cost.

The second option pairs with Rebuilding Together Kiamichi County in Hartshorne, Okla. The students will work on home repairs and improvements for low-income homeowners.

The third choice is with the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma in Oklahoma City where students will sort and pack food. According to the Bank:

“There are over 675,000 Oklahomans at risk of hunger every day, including one in four children in the state. The Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma distributes enough food to feed more than 90,000 hungry Oklahomans each week through more than 1,000 community pantries, shelters, soup kitchens and schools in central and western Oklahoma.”

Lastly, SMU will partner with City Year in San Antonio to inspire struggling kids, prepare and serve food for people without homes, and work with adults who have special needs.

“The Alternative Breaks experience is intentionally designed to create active citizens and ‘world changers.’ Students from different backgrounds and communities on campus come together to learn about a social issue through hands-on direct service and reflection,” Bailey Guthrie, an AB student advisor, said.

The number of trips AB offers has steadily increased over the past few years – from just three trips in 2008, to 17 trips planned for this year. Every trip has eight student participants, two student site leaders, and one faculty advisor. So competition is tight when it comes to application time. According to Katz, on the day applications opened this year they received 65 applications for only 32 spots.

Jessica Chu, a SMU student who went on an AB trip last spring break, recommends the program to any and everyone: “Alternative Breaks trips are truly fun and eye-opening experiences that can change our entire perspective on how we see ourselves in a community.”

On her trip, Chu was able to interact with children from 40 countries who spoke multiple different languages. Many of the children’s stories were about living in war-torn countries and how they journeyed to America. “While hearing these stories was heartbreaking, I found joy in knowing they would now have a safer and brighter future through world class education.”

For more information about the Alternative Breaks program, or how to apply, visit their website at smu.edu/ab or contact Molly O’Connor at mcoconnor@smu.edu.

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