Service to Others Brings Out Best of Self

From: Public Affairs

JMU students help rebuild a house in New Orleans, La.

When Meaghan Eicher started college at James Madison University two years ago she was shy, not quite sure she fit in and lacking a group to call her own. On a whim, she signed up for the lottery to be chosen for an Alternative Break trip being planned over Thanksgiving break. "I went to the lottery sure that I would never get picked," said Eicher. "My name was the first one called and I thought, 'this was meant to be.'"

JMU's award-winning Alternative Break Program reaches its busiest point of the year in early March as over 250 students embark on Spring Break trips around the country and world. The ASB trips, scheduled for March 310, are each based on a social issue such as homelessness, environmentalism or community wellness and include driving domestic, flying domestic and flying international trips.

The students have been working in teams since early November to organize their trip, choose a faculty or staff learning partner and fundraise. All their planning culminates in a week focused on service in their destination community but also on teamwork and reflection within their group.

Eicher credits her experiences with the Alternative Break Program as life changing. The English major, humanitarian affairs minor said, "I went through such changes. I changed my major, I found mentors in my trip leaders and I made amazing friends." Eicher was chosen as a trip leader for this spring's Madison Mystery Trip, the first of its kind at JMU. Students attending the lottery took a chance and signed up based on issue, in this case environmentalism, instead of location, blindly trusting the leaders to plan their service trip.

Misty Newman, assistant director of Community Service-Learning for Alternative Break Programs, hopes the ASB experience propels students to be active citizens long after college. "I'm excited for students to have this experience so we can continue to add more advocates for the people and social issues that they will encounter," said Newman. "When they experience things first hand, my hope is that it will ignite in them a passion for serving and that the reflection will allow them to see how they fit into the larger global society."

The JMU Alternative Break Program is the Break Away National Program of the Year for 2010 in recognition of the university's commitment to active citizenship. The program earned the same award in 1999 from Break Away, a national nonprofit organization that supports the development of quality alternative break programs at colleges and other nonprofit organizations.

Related Links:
Alternative Break Program
Interactive map showcasing current and past service trips,
Community Service-Learning:

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Alternative Spring Break Destinations

Domestic Driving
Cafe 458, Atlanta, Ga., helping at the restaurant that serves the homeless in a warm, caring environment. Focus on hunger and homelessness.

Common Ground Relief, New Orleans, La., rebuilding homes, gardening and interacting with volunteers and those who were affected by Hurricane Katrina. Focus on hurricane relief.

East Coast Migrant Head Start Program, Lakeland, Fla., helping with needs of children inside and outside the classroom. Focus on children and youth.

Essential2Life, Atlanta, Ga., working to enhance the local community by completing basic repairs and cleanup efforts, engaging in after-school mentoring programs. Focus on youth and education.

Immokalee Farm, Immokalee, Fla. Students will advocate for human rights by immersing themselves in the community, working with after-school programs and serving at the soup kitchen. Focus on refugee and immigrant rights.

InterFaith Hospitality Network, Winter Park, Fla. Cosponsored with the Center for Multicultural Student Services, students will help families in need by assisting with meal preparation and planning evening activities. Focus on hunger and homelessness.

LifeSpan, Charlotte, N.C., coordinating service work at the center that provides education, employment and enrichment programs for children and adults with developmental disabilities. Focus on disabilities.

Nature's Conservancy, Bristol, Fla., assisting with preservation of the natural habitats in some of Florida's state parks. Focus on the environment.

Once Upon A Time Homestead, Maryville, Tenn., working on environmentally focused activities and community-based activities among the Cherokee people and in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Cherokee National Forest and Sequoyah Museum. Cosponsored with University Unions, this trip will focus on environment and community wellness.

Operation Nehemiah, New Orleans, La., students will work to rebuild homes and will be part of the ongoing effort to restore the city. Focus on hurricane relief.

Project Lazarus, New Orleans, La., helping AIDS patients living in the homelike hospice by participating in game nights, painting the premises and other activities. Focus on HIV/AIDS.

Refugee Resettlement, Louisville, Ky., mentoring young refugees who are acclimating to school and community. Focus on refugee resettlement.

The Sheffield Place, Kansas City, Mo., assisting at the transitional living facility for women and children who have been forced from their homes. Focus on homelessness.

Sunshine Children's Center, Natchez, Miss., assisting with an after-school care program and tutoring students at the safe haven for abused and neglected children. Focus on youth.

Wye Marsh (Madison Mystery Trip), Midland, Ontario, Canada, trail maintenance, general site maintenance and will tend to various animal sanctuaries. Participants signed up for the trip without previous knowledge of the agency or location, but were given information about the issue at hand and the service to be completed. Focus on environment.

York Place, York, S.C., serving in the classrooms, beautifying the campus and spending time with children in the residential treatment facility for children with significant emotional or behavioral disorders. Focus on youth and education.

Domestic Flying
Casa Familiar, San Diego, Calif., helping with English education, cooking meals and interacting with families at the nonprofit organization that focuses on immigration issues. Focus on immigration resettlement.

Catalina Environmental Learning Program, Catalina, Calif., improving the natural environment of the island through invasive plant removal, trail building, landscaping and beach cleanup. Focus on environment.

Joshua Tree National Park, Calif., coordinating service work with the National Park Service, including train maintenance, landscaping, invasive plant removal, mapping, surveying and data collecting. Focus on environment.

LA's BEST (Better Educated Students for Tomorrow), Los Angeles, Calif., providing after-school tutoring, arts and crafts and games for children and working at a homeless shelter.

Redwoods National Park, Crescent City, Calif., assisting with environmental preservation projects in the park. Focus on environment.

The Lost Boys of Sudan, Phoenix, Ariz., working with the Lost Boys Center by providing general assistance, mentoring, tutoring and advocacy. This is a class-based trip, Communication Studies 318, focusing on refugee resettlement.

International Flying
Asociacion Salvemous Las Tortugas De Parismina, Costa Rica, working with the sea turtle population patrolling the beaches at night, transferring eggs from nests to the hatchery, cleaning the beach of debris, releasing hatchlings and helping make turtle nests. Focus on environment.

Committee for the Upliftment of the Mentally Ill, Montego Bay, Jamaica, working at the nongovernmental organization's day center helping with various activities. Focus on mental health.

Volunteer in Jamaica Opportunity Network, Treasure Beach, Jamaica, assisting the Sandy Bank Primary School to promote reading among students who are reading below grade level and assisting with the assembly of playgrounds at local schools. Focus on youth and education.

February 28, 2012