As we kick off the last week of the semester, students have visions of break dancing in their heads. This break some students will be spending their free time giving back with Alternative Winter Break.
Alternative Winter Break was first started in the 1980s as a religious retreat that only consisted of around 15 participants. Starting in the early 2000s, Student Life here at ISU decided to get involved with Alternative Winter Break and expand the opportunity to other students, making several groups of 15 and going to various places. At first, these trips were only during the spring. Since then, the program has greatly expanded, drawing more and more participants each year.
Alternative Breaks are run through Leadership and Service, which is a unit of the Dean of Students Office. The purpose of the trips to allow students to promote change and are given the chance to make a difference locally, nationally and even internationally. Alternative Winter Break is a 10-day service trip where students take buses to various communities in need. The trip is paid for in installments and comes out to be a total of $205. It is cheaper if you become a trip advisor, and many students who decide to stay involved can become trip leaders as students.
Students do not know right away where they will be going to volunteer, which is part of the surprise. When students apply they explain why they want to participate, and volunteer issues that they are interested in working with. Students are split up randomly or according to different organizations and RSOs. For example, there is a bus for Greek Life where students in all different fraternities and sororities come together and volunteer. Last year many Greek students helped build homes and tutor children.
Nicole Simi, a junior business major at Illinois State and member of the Gamma Phi Beta Sorority, went to Selma, Ala., with several other Greek members to help young kids in the area. She loved her experience. “We mainly worked with a program called Random Acts of Theatre Company and just worked with the kids. We also went to schools there and assisted teachers and helped with demolition and prep for a building,” Simi said.
Students can do anything from feed the hungry, build homes for the homeless, tutor and mentor young children and so much more. This is an opportunity that is open to any ISU student who is interested, and participants who are getting ready for their opportunity are very excited to get out there and help.
Junior education major Stephanie Pouse will be going on Alternative Winter Break and looks forward to the unique opportunity. “I’m excited to be able to experience a lifestyle different than ours in the United States. I can’t wait to work with endangered turtles as well as with special needs students. The experience as a whole will be amazing,” Pouse said. So students who go on these trips are not assigned to one specific task, but rather could be involved in several within those 10 days.
Simi encourages anyone who is interested to participate. “Seeing that so many students are willing to give up their spring/winter breaks to help make a difference in the lives of people they’ve never met before is the most rewarding part to me,” Simi said.
If you are not going on the Alternative Winter Break but you are interested in getting involved in the spring, check out the Dean of Students page on ISU’s website and see how you can register or even help in other ways. It is a great way to get involved and spend your break helping those who are not lucky enough to catch a break of their own.