Wednesday, October 30, 2013

A Look into the Alternative Breaks Process

Alternative Breaks

Working Alongside Communities. Building U.

The Alternative Breaks (AB) program is a unique chance for not only students but staff to become more involved at the University of Utah. For students, this program offers direct, hands on service, education, and leadership opportunities, while staff have the chance to become a mentor to a student leader.

Prospective student site leaders are interviewed when they come back from their AB trip and shortly after are matched with a social issue focus and location. From then on out until the week of the break they are planning what volunteer organizations they will be working with, where they will stay once they arrive on location, and how they will effectively lead the rest of the student participants through an unforgettable (for some, life changing) experience.

Staff partners who are interested in this mentorship are interviewed throughout early summer and selected based on their enthusiasm to support a student for six months to a whole year. Once staff partners are selected they start attending bi-monthly meetings with student site leaders by mid-summer or September. This allows them to get an idea of what the AB program is about and who they potentially want to work with for the coming year.

Student site leaders and staff partners at the fall 2013 retreat.
By mid-summer or late September, student site leaders and staff partners are required to attend an overnight retreat. At this retreat student site leaders and staff partners are presented with extensive diversity and safe zone trainings. This experience readies them for the group of undetermined student participants that will be placed on their trip in late August or early December. The retreat also serves as a crucial time for staff partners and site leaders to get to know each other and ultimately figure out who they want to collaborate with.

After the retreat is over, the administration team (comprised of a student chair and co-chair, and two full time AB staff members) deliberates to match student and staff depending on who they mentioned as having bonded with the most so far. As soon as this is achieved, the student site leader and staff partner hit the ground running! They begin contacting volunteer agencies, figuring out lodging logistics, finding educational opportunities around their social issue focus, contacting guest speakers, and planning fun get to know you events, all for the student participants to experience.

About a month or two before fall or spring break rolls around the site leader and staff partner have put in a significant amount of planning and are ready to meet their participants. Up to three pre-trip meetings are organized by the student site leader and staff partner before departing. These meetings are required for participants to attend since they are oriented to what the AB experience is all about and the social issue focus they will be working with.

On departure day you can feel everyone’s energy and excitement. The fact that AB trips drive to every location is a perfect chance for everyone to start really getting to know each other.

-Stephanie Cooper, ASB Site Leader and Student Board Member