Service to Others Brings Out Best of SelfWhen 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 3–10, 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.
Alternative Break Program http://info.jmu.edu/csl/abp/
Interactive map showcasing current and past service trips, http://www.jmu.edu/service/.
Community Service-Learning: http://www.jmu.edu/csl