Known or not

Whether it's a chance for further community service opportunities or to embark on a totally new experience, Community Service-Learning is a gateway for JMU students to find themselves and their future
By Jan Gillis ('07)

JMU's Alternative Service Break trips are student-run, student-led.

JMU's Alternative Service Break trips are student-run, student-led.

Some Madison students arrive on campus as community service veterans. Others embark on the unknown when they sign up for their first service experience. Despite their varying backgrounds, the experience is a deal maker, giving students the chance to learn about themselves, about others and about what they want their future to be, all the while making the world a better place.

Known

Dusty Krikau, of JMU's Office of Community Service-Learning says, "Many young people are aware of the value of service through Break Away®, a nonprofit organization that has made Alternative Break programs a national movement with chapter schools, nonprofit partners and members all focused on inspiring active citizenship."

While Alternative Service Breaks are not unique to JMU, there is a Madison distinction. "At JMU, it's the cool thing to do. From the administration on down it's recognized as the thing that Madison does," says CS-L director Rich Harris ('77). And it's recognized in a big way. Madison was included on the 2009 President's Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll cited for the scope and innovation of its projects and the percentage of students that choose to participate in service activities.

… or not

Of course, there are students unfamiliar with service yet drawn to the program. For some new converts the driving force to participate is peer pressure of the best kind. "Other students look at Alternative Break participants and are attracted by their passionate, enthusiastic, fun-loving nature," says Harris. "They say, 'I don't know what this is, but I want what they have!'" Another potent incentive to the neophyte is a special opportunity college provides a young person. "College can be a time to start over, picking things that you wouldn't have tried in high school, creating the person you want to be," says Harris.

There are many things that make service-learning special at JMU. Matthew Long ('12) came to JMU as a seasoned service-learning veteran … he'd had many service experiences in high school. But service at Madison featured a compelling facet. "One major aspect of JMU's ASB program that was new to me was the fact that the students run it … and the enthusiasm that the students bring is what makes the trips work," he says.

Harris says, "While each trip has a faculty or staff learning partner as a trip participant, JMU's program is student-run, student-led, with a 15-week training program for leaders." The wide array of social-issue relevancies and locations of the trips, as well as the sheer number, is complemented by a special emphasis for JMU service participants. "We endeavor to make sure the service plugs into the student's academic career," he says. It's a total package.

Offers the best life lessons

It is not unusual for the new experience of an Alternative Service Break to create a zealous convert. Many participants take repeated trips, go on to serve as trip leaders, integrate their service experiences into their academic careers, and mold their futures around active citizenship in a variety of arenas. "It was my ASB/CS-L experiences that helped me get my first post-JMU job, coordinating volunteers and youth service opportunities with the American Red Cross," says Becky Huber Trytten ('99). She and her husband recently finished a Peace Corps assignment in Fiji. "Peace Corps is about recognizing our common humanity and the benefits of working together. It's a lesson I first learned with some amazing Dukes way back in Boca, Spring Break '96," says Trytten.

Long says he sees community service experience having a universally positive influence. "Everyone I know who has experienced a community service trip has set career goals that are based in helping out those in need. I've heard of future teachers, doctors, lawyers and maybe even Presidents who want to devote their lives to helping others improve their lives."

You couldn't wish for a better outcome than that.

  1. Photo: Rashaunda Jackson describes her JMU service experiences

    Seeing the other side

    Rashaunda Jackson's ('11) ASB trips added depth to her academic career

    "What attracted me to taking part in an Alternative Break trip was the idea of being a part of this nationwide movement of college students making a difference in the lives of others …" Read more

  2. Photo: Matthew Long ('12) describes his JMU service experiences

    "It's no sacrifice"

    Matthew Long ('12) says you get far more than you give

    Matthew Long's ('12) pre-Madison experience was filled with community service in high school. "Every experience I had was a positive one, and I knew that once I started at JMU that I would want to continue my involvement in similar projects. …" Read more

  3. Photo: Emily Schrecker ('08), ('09M) experiences with service at JMU led to her work in AmeriCorp

    "Out of my comfort zone"

    Emily Schrecker's ('08), ('09M) ASB trips offered a way to get truly involved

    "It was a brand new experience for me. I had never heard of anyone's previous ASB experiences. I had never even been camping before and I signed up for an environmental camping trip! I guess I was ready for a new experience that had me step outside my comfort zone …" Read more

  4. Photo: Kerry Tousignant ('12)  describes her JMU service experiences

    Life changing

    Kerry Tousignant's ('12) ASB trip made her more aware of the world around her

    "Last winter, I was a freshman trying to find my place at JMU. I'd joined a couple clubs, but nothing seemed that different from the organizations I'd joined in high school. … So when I heard about Community Service-Learning and …" Read more

  5. Photo: Jillian Treacy ('07) describes her JMU service experiences

    A fortunate accident

    Jillian Treacy ('07) thought she was going camping

    Jillian Treacy ('07) got into her first Alternative Break trip by accident. "When my roommates said they were going to camp out on campus, I went along for the fun of camping," she says. Treacy didn't realize she was in the highly competitive queue for a slot …" Read more

  6. Photo: Becky Trytten ASB  trip

    "Most memorable"

    For Becky Huber Trytten ('99) ASB experiences continue to inspire

    "I am always slightly embarrassed about how my ASB adventure began," Becky Huber Trytten ('99) confesses. A fellow freshman mentioned an opportunity to build houses with Habitat for Humanity. "What I heard was that there was a cheap trip to Florida …" Read more