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Each year James Madison University offers student led and developed service breaks to locations in the United States and abroad. Each service team typically consists of 12 student participants, two student co-leaders and a faculty or staff learning partner. Most breaks take place during the spring break period, but breaks are offered at all of the JMU academic breaks.

While working with national and international communities, the James Madison University Alternative Break Program trains and immerses students in a purposeful service experience designed to connect students and community members while enhancing personal growth, mutual awareness and life-long learning.


The Alternative Break Program, as a part of the Community Service-Learning Office, has the mission to prepare the JMU community to be educated and enlightened citizens committed to positive social change by providing reflective experiential opportunities with diverse community partners.

Alternative Break Philosophy

Each of JMU's Alternative Breaks will adhere to the national Break Away philosophy and methodology by incorporating the Eight key components from Break Away and a ninth component added by JMU.

  • Strong Direct Service:

Programs provide an opportunity for participants to engage in direct or "hands-on" projects and activities that addresses critical but unmet social needs, as determined by the community. Community interaction during service projects and throughout the week is highly encouraged during breaks.
  • Education:

Programs include issue specific educational sessions which participants attend prior to and perhaps during their alternative break. These sessions provide participants with the historical, political, social, and cultural context of the social problems they will be working with during the break. Effective education provides faces and opinions from all perspectives on the issue, including ways that the participants' personal life choices are connected to them.
  • Orientation:

    Prior to departure, participants should be oriented to the mission and vision of the community partner or organization(s) with which they are working. Participants are encouraged to look at the context of the work of the organization within the broader community and to become allies to their mission and vision through direct service.
  • Training:

    Participants are provided with adequate training in skills necessary to carry out tasks and projects during the break. Ideally this training should take place prior to departure, although in some instances it may occur once participants have reached their site. Examples of training include teaching basic construction, learning how to read with children or gaining first aid skills.
  • Reflection:

    During the break, participants reflect upon the experiences they are having - synthesizing the direct service, education, and community interaction components. . Applying classroom learning and integrating many academic disciplines can occur. The site leaders should set aside time for reflection to take place, both individually and in a group setting.
  • Reorientation:

    Upon return to campus, programs carry out reorientation activities for all participants where they can share their break experiences and translate them into a lifelong commitment to active citizenship. Through these activities, participants continue their volunteer efforts in their local area, learn about possible internships, engage politically in their community, obtain resources for continued education on social issues, and make life choices that benefit the entire community.
  • Diversity and Social Justice:

    Strong alternative break programs include participants representing the range of students present in the campus community. Coordinators should recruit, design, implement and evaluate their program with this end in mind. Break programs should also plan to intentionally address the issue of diversity and social justice, or in other words privilege and oppression, and how it relates to service work.
  • Alcohol and Other Drug Free:

    Programs must be aware that issues of legality, liability, personal safety and group cohesion are of concern when alcohol and other drugs are consumed on an alternative break. Programs provide education and training on alcohol and other drug related issues as well as develop a policy on how these issues will be dealt with on an alternative break.
  • Conscientious Living:

During the alternative break, everyone will live a conscientious life.  This means that each individual will have $6 total for all 3 meals ($1 for breakfast, $2 for lunch, and $3 for dinner).  This is implemented because it shows individuals how people sustain themselves with low budgets.  The conscientious living component also includes having no cell phones, computers, being eco friendly by bring wour own water bottle, etc.  Lastly, break leaders are encouraged to find housing that is low cost as well to help simulate the experience of living the conscientious life.



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