Learning to serve

by Paula Polglase


Two JMU students wearing goggles and work-gloves bent over a work table using tools.A simple chalk message on The Commons started freshman Jaimie Mulligan’s journey to California to work with immigrant refugees as part of James Madison University’s Alternative Spring Break program.  Walking past she read the message and knew she wanted to get involved.  “I am definitely interested in service, that’s what I was looking for when I came to college,” said Mulligan, an anthropology major from Sterling, Va., who already has plans to apply for the Peace Corp after graduation.  “I knew that I wanted to get involved in college but I wanted something that would give me a really good base, a set of friends and an experience I wouldn’t otherwise have.”

JMU's award-winning Alternative Break Program reaches its busiest point of the year in early March as over 300 students embark on 30 spring break trips around the country and world.   The ASB trips, scheduled for March 2–9, 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 spend the week living simply, focused on service in their destination community but also on teamwork and reflection within their group.

The JMU Alternative Break Program was 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.

The students who sign up for ASB have been working in teams since early November to organize their trip, choose a faculty or staff learning partner and fundraise.  Mulligan and co-leader Luis Parada are leading the team to San Diego, Calif., to spend a week at Casa Familiar, a nonprofit agency focused on immigrant resettlement.  The trip leaders are responsible for educating their group on their trip’s social issue as well as finding opportunities back in Harrisonburg for participants to carry on their service when they return.  “Hopefully we can instill in everyone that value of bringing back something you learned from the trip,” said Mulligan.  “The whole point is to bring it back home.”

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."

Parada, a junior math major, encourages all students to participate in an alternative break while at JMU.  “It is one of the most humbling, rewarding, and selfless experiences I've had in my time at JMU and it has taught me how to be more aware of the service and help I can provide here in my neck of the woods,” said Parada.  “The journey may be long and even rough along the way at some points but the rewards and satisfaction you get from representing JMU and doing something beyond volunteering is worthwhile.” 

Related Links:

Alternative Break Program 
Community Service-Learning:

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Alternative Spring Break Destinations

Domestic Driving

Camp Vacamas, West Milford, N.J., working to maintain the children’s leadership camp as well as working with kids at an after-school program in the Bronx, N.Y.  Focus on education.

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

Family Promise of Greater Florida—Co-sponsored with Center for Multicultural Student Services, Winter Park, Fla., helping the community by teaming up with multiple nonprofit organizations within the region.  Focus on homelessness.

Food and Friends—Co-sponsored with Madison HIV/AIDS Alliance, Washington, D.C., students will be cooking and delivering meals to individuals living with HIV/AIDS.  Focus on HIV/AIDS.

Gesundheit! Institute, Hillsboro, W. Va., assisting the holistic medical care program with everything from grounds work to community outreach and organic farming.  Focus on health. 

Heart of Florida United Way, Orlando Fla., working on a variety of daily projects aimed to help people in need in Orlando. These projects range from painting, playing with kids, cooking, serving food, tutoring, building and more. Focus on hunger and homelessness.

Life Span Inc., 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.

Medici Project, Atlanta Ga., works with at-risk urban youth in the community, providing social, emotional and educational support to those who need it.  Focus on youth and HIV/AIDS.

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—Co-sponsored with Madison Unions, 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.  Focus on environment and community wellness. 

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. 

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.

York Place, York, S.C., serving in 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

AIDS Project of Los Angeles, Los Angeles, Calif., works with those affected by HIV/AIDS by providing a wealth of services from oral health to running four food pantries across the area.  Focus on HIV/AIDS.

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

LA’s Best and LA Mission, Los Angeles, Calif., providing after-school tutoring, arts and crafts and games for children and working at a homeless shelter.  Focus on youth and homelessness.

Lost Boys Center and Catholic Charities—Co Sponsored with School of Communication Studies, 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. 

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

Sea Base, Key West, Fla., cleaning up the shoreline, building boardwalks, clearing trails and many other projects to help Sea Base prepare for the programs that they provide.  Focus on environment.

International Flying

ASISAM—Co-sponsored with Department of Social Work, San Salvador and San Martin, El Salvador, will visit several mental health facilities and work with social work students from the National University of El Salvador as well as participate in service work in San Martin.  Focus on mental health.

Asociacion Salvemous Las Tortugas de Parismina (ASTOP), 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.

Costa Rican Adventures, Monteverde, Costa Rica, collaborating with local community members on service projects which include work with schools, community centers, small family farms and reforestation of biological corridors.  Focus on community wellness.

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

Entremundos, Quetxaltenango, Guatemala, working with greenhouse construction, local reforestation projects and a local nutritional education program for children in the community.  Focus on community wellness.

Nicaragua Project—Co-sponsored with the Mahatma Gandhi Center for Global Nonviolence, Chacraseca, Nicaragua, helping to build a house for a local family.  Focus on homelessness and poverty. 

Paix Bouche Community Council—Co-sponsored with Department of Social Work, Paix Bouche, Dominica, study the culture and formulation of social policy and methods of social work and human services practices in Dominica.  Focus on community wellness.

Village Mountain Mission, Dominican Republic, focusing on building a house for a local family in the Dominican while interacting and working with locals.  Focus on community wellness.

By Paula Polglase, University Communications and Lauren Vacca ('12), intern

February 27, 2013

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Published: Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Last Updated: Thursday, June 25, 2020

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