In a little over a month, many students will be getting ready to go back home, see family, or go on an exciting spring break vacation. But for the students of Alternative Breaks, spring break has a different meaning.
Instead of participating in a “traditional” spring break, Alternative Breaks members embark on service-learning trips that focus on a varying number of social justice issues. Working with agencies such as Harlem Grown and Mountain Lake Academy, students who participate in the program work to combat issues, such as domestic violence or commercial sexual exploitation.
This year, Alternative Breaks is gearing up for eleven different trips. Nine are located in New York City, one in Lake Placid, and another in Tangelo Park, Florida.
Before departing, trip participants learn about social justice issues for twelve weeks –– a curriculum that is largely based on the educational needs of Alternative Breaks’ partners.
“We’re emphasizing that the agency is being heard,” Bianca Murillo ‘21, head service learning chair of the organization, said. “[They] need to be receiving the services and work they’re asking for.”
Murillo has previously been both a participant and a leader in Lake Placid’s Mountain Lake Academy, a program that involves working with “at-promise” youth –– the new term for “at-risk” youth to combat negative stigma –– to organize a cultural lunch, a talent show, and other workshops. This year, she will be going to New York City as a coordinator to oversee the status of each of the 11 trips.
Murillo, who was originally a pre-med student, has been heavily influenced by the Alternative Breaks trips.
“I just couldn’t come back to Cornell and sit with that information. So, I changed my career path,” Murillo said. “Now, I want to focus on clinical psychology within the juvenile justice system.”
The organization prepares year round for the one week of service. Even in the summer, Alternative Breaks takes time to meet with social justice agencies to plan for the following year.
According to Joye Muchan ’96, the student program advisor of Alternative Breaks, the connections the program makes with the partner agencies are essential.
“What we’re doing is establishing a long term relationship,” said Muchan. “It’s an amazing partnership.”
According to Murillo, Alternative Breaks is set apart by its emphasis on promoting team bonding.
Janel Excell ’23 is looking forward to her participation in the Tangelo Park trip, which focuses on supporting children in the community’s cash-strapped middle and high schools. In addition to the impact Alternative Breaks makes outside of the Tompkins County area, the organization strives to affect personal growth among its students.
“It’s about reciprocal learning,” Excell said. “We aim to help the programs just as much as we learn from them.”