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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 during various JMU academic breaks (Winter, Spring, May, weekends, etc.).

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, cultivates positive social change through mutually beneficial service partnerships, critical reflection, and the development of engaged citizens through our values of humility, intentionality, equity, accountability, service, relationships, and learning. 

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.

Strong Direct Service

Programs provide opportunities for participants to engage directly with community members through hands on projects and activities. Programs should develop projects informed by community identified assets and needs and in conjunction with their community partner(s).

Full Engagement

Programs provide opportunities to live in line with community, program, or break specific values. Programs create opportunities for participants to consider ways of aligning values and actions with regard to choices about the alternative break experience. This includes having limited technology (cell phones, computers, etc) to encourage present-ness. Students will take minimal and thoughtful pictures as not to exploit the communities with which they are working. It also includes no alcohol or drug use. Issues of community impact, legality, liability, personal safety, and group cohesion are of concern when alcohol and other drugs are consumed on an alternative break. This also includes individuals having $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 equal to that of SNAP. It also includes consideration of consumption (water, electricity, unnecessary spending, etc) and their carbon footprint. Lastly, leaders are encouraged to find housing that is low/no cost to help simulate the experience of living the conscientious life. 

Diversity and Social Justice

Alternative break programs include participants representing the range of students present in the campus community. Leaders recruit for, design, implement, and evaluate their program with this end in mind. Strong programs engage participants in dialogue that furthers understanding of how systems of power, privilege, and oppression relate to social issues and service work in communities. This deepened awareness enables students to do more responsible, sustainable, and impactful community work.


Before, during, and after the alternative break experience, participants learn about the communities, organization/s, and projects with which they are working.


Effective education provides a framework of intersecting perspectives developed to help participants understand the root causes and effects of social issues. Powerful education should also include information to connect participants' personal life choices and experiences to the topic.


Throughout the entire alternative break experience, participants are provided with adequate training necessary to carry out tasks and activities related to the service project. Ideally, participants gain life-long skills that provide them with opportunities to engage in their community upon return from the break.


Anytime participants engage in community work, they are strongly encouraged to reflect upon the experience - synthesizing service, education, and community immersion components. Time is set aside for this to take place individually and as a group and should occur both organically and through structured activities.


Upon return from the alternative break experience, individuals transfer lessons learned by engaging in continued education, service, advocacy, and/or philanthropy. Participants join or organize small groups to take action around issues on campus, in their neighborhoods, within the local community, and more broadly.

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