June 16, 2014 – Restoring ecosystems, rehabilitating animals, serving the homeless, hungry and sick are just some of the ways University of Utah students spend their fall and spring breaks. Recently named program of the year by Break Away, a national organization promoting active citizenship in higher education, the Alternative Breaks program at the U encourages volunteerism and lifelong service by dispatching teams of students to communities in the western U.S. and Canada.
“The program strives to create a society of passionate and engaged citizens,” said Nisha Kavalam, a student site leader with the program. “This means getting people involved in social issues for more than just a week, but rather coming back to the community and doing service, striving for political activism or generally being more aware of social issues.”
Kavalam, a senior studying social work, has been involved with the program since her freshman year and traveled to Seattle twice this past year to lead trips focused on homelessness and hunger. She credits the program with teaching her skills that not only benefit her education, but improve her everyday interactions, as well.
“My experience in the program has heightened my communication skills, capacity for critical thinking and empathetic tendencies as I navigate through classwork, classroom discussions and civic engagement,” she added.
Committed to diversity and social justice, the Alternative Breaks program provides training to each student about identity, privilege, inclusion, inter-cultural communication, triggers and slang language before each trip.
Participation increased 130 percent this past year and the program raised $18,000 for scholarships to make it accessible to all students. The program now offers a free trip in the fall for first generation students.
“We truly want to make this program accessible to all students,” said Kris Fenn, Alternative Breaks coordinator. “We have seen that students are greatly impacted personally by this one-week service trip, and they are also much more likely to be active in their own communities after they return. We hope to continue to grow this program, both through student involvement and community support, so that in the near future all students can have an alternative break experience.”
The Alternative Breaks program is a collaboration between the Bennion Community Service Center and the Center for Student Wellness. It has been a part of the U since 1997. For more information about the Alternative Breaks program, click here.
For more information about Break Away, click here.