“It’s been nine months of endless preparation and a lot of dedication, and I couldn’t be happier with the outcome,” said Jalen Rose, Alternative Breaks programmer. “I couldn’t be happier with the group of students to get this program underway.”

It was time to start our journey to our Alternative Breaks trips. Twenty-six students were split into three groups were about to head out in vans and cars, driving towards Goshen, Indiana and Cleveland, Ohio.

Break Away Alternative Breaks is a nationwide program that allows students to do community service based on academic break periods. The length of these trips can last from a day to several weeks. The University of Michigan-Dearborn Alternative Breaks program is led by the Civic Leadership Board in the Office for Student Engagement.

Organized by faculty Brendan GaIlagher, coordinator, and Jalen Rose, it is an opportunity to learn how cities outside of our own are contributing to their communities in substantial ways. Following the eight components of strong direct service, diversity and social justice, full engagement, orientation, education, training, reflection and orientation, students were on a mission to learn more and bring these ideas back to the Metro-Detroit area.

“The vision of Alternative Breaks is creating a world of active citizens,” said Gallagher. “The concept of if we’re going to be here, we have a responsibility to the communities we’re a part of, as well as our national and global communities.”

On my trip in Goshen, Indiana, I learned a lot of things that helped to adjust my mission in my journalism career. I know that the housing crisis is very high in Detroit, but I was able to see how this issue is being solved by an organization located in a different city. It was eye-opening to see how this organization has been able to advance the lives of others in such an immense way and it has showed me that this is possible in the city of Detroit as well.

La Casa, an non-profit in Goshen, Indiana, has impacted the community endlessly for many years. The three features of La Casa are affordable housing, financial planning and assisting with immigration. My group of Spring Breakers — name we gave ourselves — were able to talk to every employee that works for the organization. They were genuinely willing to serve their community as much as possible.

It may feel like you’re not having a huge impact on our community, but you, the next group and people in the community working together over time, we’re weaving a tapestry,” said James Davis, Chief Operating Officer. “What you don’t see is the sustained impact on our community over time.”

During the trip, we assisted with the renovation of what was once a mansion. The mansion had been separated into four apartment units, which will create living spaces for four families in Goshen. Throughout the week, we scraped the basement’s stone, grouted holes where water was seeping in and then cleaned the units. In the end, I had not realized how much work goes into the renovation of apartments.

One amazing event during this trip was being able to visit and have dinner with an Amish family. I now have a better understanding of their culture and why they choose this way of life, when the entire world around them is advancing so fast.

When one student asked what happens when their children decide to leave their culture, our host Joe responded with “if they explore the world, 90 percent of them will come back.”

While passing horses and buggies on the way home, we also discovered that Dwight Schrute from “The Office” is from an Amish family. I guess he was one that branched away from the Amish way of life.

Overall, Alternative Breaks are to create a learning experience that makes you think critically about the service you are completing.

“I’ve learned to be intentional in everything I do, especially in regard to serving my community,“ said Sara Alqaragholy, Civic Leadership Board member and Alternative Spring Break attendee. “How does my existence and my service impact others?”

The goal is to make Alternative Breaks as affordable as possible in hopes to make this opportunity accessible to everyone. My trip to Goshen, Indiana was at the affordable price of $50, including all expenses paid for a week of traveling, two rental cars, gas, food and a place to stay.

“It gives students — who may not be able to vacation — to see other communities and have these exciting, impactful experiences outside of what they see everyday,” said Rose.

If given the opportunity, I think that every student should try to experience an Alternative Break. Learning about how other cities are doing good work in their communities has inspired many to come back to their own city and volunteer. Be sure to find the learning objective that fits you most so that you can gain a better understanding of the work you are accomplishing.

There are plans to expand Alternative Breaks and the Civic Leadership Board has aspirations to host trips during summer and winter breaks. Applications for Alternative Spring Break will launch on VictorsLink in January 2020. There are two site leaders to every trip, and that is also a position that you can apply for.

For any questions, visit the Office for Student Engagement, and they will direct you to Brendan Gallagher or Jalen Rose.