IUPUI Fall Alternative Break program preparing for 2016 service

  • Oct. 11, 2016


INDIANAPOLIS -- When Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis pauses for fall break, 40 students will head to Columbus, Ohio, with an eye toward studying social issues as part of the student-run Alternative Breaks program. The group will volunteer Oct. 14-17 in the areas of emergency preparedness, urban farming, food insecurity and affordable housing.

Fall Alternative Break is part of a larger Alternative Breaks program within the IUPUI Division of Student Affairs. While eight trips are planned for the spring break period, October features a more concentrated effort closer to home.

In Columbus, students will work with the American Red Cross of Central Ohio, Franklinton Gardens, St. Stephen's Community House and Habitat for Humanity. With these community partners, students will help local firefighters install fire alarms, serve in a food pantry and urban garden, and assist with relocating donations to where they are most needed in the city.

Because of the many similarities between Columbus and Indianapolis, the students will examine the social issues faced by the two capital cities. The goal is to allow those on the trip to compare the challenges and opportunities in both locations, resulting in an ability to continue impacting their own communities in the future.

"The goal of Alternative Breaks is to take students from being isolated members of their community along a continuum to becoming volunteers, conscientious citizens and then active citizens," said Niki Messmore, coordinator for civic engagement. "The goal is for students to live their lives while not only making decisions for themselves, but also thinking about the community and of ways that they can better their communities."

Of the 40 students traveling, four will serve as co-coordinators. These students are recipients of the Sam H. Jones Service Scholarship. They are largely responsible for selecting the themes of each trip and developing the itinerary. They also oversee the program's marketing strategy and alumni initiatives.

Students faced strong competition for the remaining 36 spots this fall. The program received more than 100 applications, an increase from 40 applicants for 20 openings a year ago. Applications for the newly launched Alternative Break Assistant program were also high.

Participants accepted in the Alternative Break Assistant program complete the required training to become future trip leaders, research the social issues they will examine on the road and serve as group facilitators in the lead-up to departure. These students also receive financial assistance to participate in Alternative Breaks, making the program even more inclusive for students of varying backgrounds.

"For a long time, a lot of these opportunities on campus were almost elite," said Messmore, regarding the notable increase in applications. "The people who went on the trips were sometimes connected to other community service scholarship programs, like the Sam H. Jones Community Service Scholarship Program, and then they told their friends about it. Now we're reaching out to different programs on campus and different majors and asking professors to endorse it and share with their students. We're reaching out a lot more to 21st Century Scholars, the Multicultural Center and some student organizations."

The efforts of Messmore and her team have paid off in the diversity of participants as well as the numbers. Every class cohort and more than 20 majors are represented. Students' classroom studies range from philanthropy and nonprofit management to biology, neuroscience and nursing to secondary education and Spanish.

For students unable to participate in Fall Alternative Break, applications for Alternative Spring Break will be available Nov. 1. Spring projects, which will run March 12-18, 2017, include environmentalism, animal conservation, systemic racism, rural education, HIV/AIDS, indigenous rights, mental health and interfaith social issues.

The IUPUI Division of Student Affairs has sponsored alternative break opportunities for more than a decade. The program offers students an alcohol- and drug-free opportunity to connect with different communities and cultures while working to create positive, sustainable change. More than 100 students participate in the Alternative Breaks program each year. For more information about Alternative Breaks and other engagement opportunities through the Division of Student Affairs, visit Leadership Development and Civic Engagement.

IUPUI students work on a service project through the Alternative Breaks program.

IUPUI students work on a service project through the Alternative Breaks program.

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