Central Michigan University’s Alternative Break program was recently ranked third in the nation and first in Michigan for both the number of participants and trips, according to
Break Away’s 2014-2015 National Chapter Survey. Last year, 641 students volunteered through 55 trips offered by CMU’s Mary Ellen Brandell Volunteer Center.
“My Alternative Break experience has definitely been the highlight of my college experience,” said Southfield senior Charnae Sanders, a journalism major who has participated in a weeklong Alternative Break focused on diversity in Immokalee, Florida, and an in-state weekend break in Battle Creek at the veterans hospital.
Students traveled to 24 states to volunteer through CMU’s Alternative Break program, as well as Belize, Germany and Poland, last year. Within Michigan, they volunteered at 10 sites.
"If you look at the big picture, it's not about going somewhere," Sanders said. "It's really about the impact that you leave. You're a part of something bigger. The friendships you make will remain and the impact on the community will stay. You've got to do an Alternative Break before you graduate. It's truly an eye-opening experience."
Rob Voisin, a Mount Pleasant native who graduated last month with a bachelor's degree in industrial technology management, participated in five Alternative Breaks during his college career at CMU.
"I think the program has done so well because it builds an inclusive environment," Voisin, who served as an Alternative Break site leader and a board member, said. "If you have a passion for giving back, we probably have a program for you."
Students have 36 social justice issues to choose from for an Alternative Break—including affordable housing, civil rights, animal rescue, diversity, suicide prevention and national disaster restoration. Voisin said serving on an Alternative Break with other students who are passionate about a particular social justice issue helps build friendships.
"There's a dynamic that I've always loved," he said. "You start out with this group of people who you may have never met. The first meetings are kind of awkward. Then you head out to your break, and you have a great time. You have 11 new friends by the time you get back."
Voisin said the Alternative Break program also has helped prepare him for the workforce.
"You gain soft skills that employers look for when you graduate, such as being able to work with diverse groups of people, being able to understand different social structures, teamwork, motivating the people around you and building up a work ethic," he said.
Last year, Break Away ranked CMU's Alternative Break program fourth in the nation for the number of Alternative Break trips taken and seventh in the nation for the number of participants. According to the 2012 National Survey of Student Engagement, nearly 70 percent of responding CMU seniors reported having participated in community service or volunteer work before graduation.
Top Ranked Alternative Break Programs
1. University of Missouri
2. The Ohio State University
3. Central Michigan University
4. University of Connecticut
5. James Madison University
6. Florida International University
7. University of Maryland, College Park
8. Northwestern University
9. Vanderbilt University
10. University of Michigan