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CMU student volunteers make impact during winter break

More than 200 students give back and learn about social issues in U.S. and Belize


​​​​During winter break, 224 Central Michigan University students traveled to 19 sites across the U.S. and one site in Belize through the Mary Ellen Brandell Volunteer Center's Alternative Break program. They worked at a school for refugee children, repaired homes, helped a wildlife rescue in the Everglades, aided in home construction in New Orleans and impacted hundreds of lives related to other social issues.

CMU ranks fourth in the nation for the number of Alternative Break trips taken and seventh in the nation for the number of participants, according to Break Away's 2013-2014 National Chapter Survey.

Meet five CMU students who spent a week of their winter break impacting the lives of others through the Alternative Break program.


Cody Wilson 
Cody Wilson
Philosophy and integrative public relations junior from Tipton, Michigan
Social issue: Refugee resettlement

Tell us about your Alternative Break:
We traveled to Decatur, Georgia, to volunteer at the International Community School. Approximately half of the K-5 school is comprised of refugee students and we served as teacher's aides in their very diverse classrooms.

What did you learn?
The school has about 45 different languages spoken because of its extreme diversity. I was talking to a teacher at the school and he told me about how some students don't understand where they come from because their countries no longer exist. We also saw the refugee housing in Decatur. The apartments were very rundown and possibly unsafe. Some students in fourth and fifth grade were taking care of their brothers and sisters who are in kindergarten or first grade.

We may have made an impact being there for a week. But the most important thing, in my opinion, is to take what I've learned and educate others to see what I can do to help make social change.

Describe your experience in one word:
Humbling.

 
Morgan Warner 
Morgan Warner
Secondary education mathematics junior from Martin, Michigan
Social issue: Affordable housing

Tell us about your Alternative Break:
We went to Hazard, Kentucky, and worked with the Housing Development Alliance. We had a busy week between repairing and repainting transitional living facilities and cleaning out a house designed for the next steps after transitional living. After four days of work we were able to put six families into homes!

What did you learn?
When it comes to affordable housing, you never know who you are going to help. At first my group thought we would just be helping the families who would be living in the homes we were working on. However, by the end of the week, it was clear that we were helping the entire community. We had several locals approach us and thank us for our time and our help. People appreciated what we were doing for the area.

Describe your experience in one word:
Empowering.

Travis White
Sociology: Criminal justice junior from Farwell, Michigan
Social issue: Science and technology education

Tell us about your Alternative Break:
We traveled to Oklahoma City to work with Science Museum Oklahoma. We assisted the staff in various science-related tasks and projects around the museum, some even including liquid nitrogen!

What did you learn?
Not only were we given the chance to educate children and make them interested in science, but we had an opportunity to educate ourselves. Since we were extremely excited and enthusiastic to be there every day, I feel that rubbed off on the children and the staff who we worked with. If children could see that you could learn about science and have fun at the same time, then maybe they would be more interested in learning in the future.

Describe your experience in one word:
Memorable


Hannah Long 
Hannah Long
Health administration junior from Waterford, Michigan
Social issue: Deaf awareness

Tell us about your Alternative Break:
We went to Washington, D.C. In the morning, we worked with Deaf-REACH. They really allowed us to become part of the office staff. We designed shirts, doors and business cards. We also packed more than 500 safe sex kits. In the afternoon we worked at an elementary school where we played games, baked and just hung out with children.

What did you learn?
My biggest learning revelation was realizing I didn't know as much sign language as I thought I did. My jaw dropped when we went into the elementary school and we met this one little girl. She was mesmerizing to watch sign and laugh. She was animated and just put all of our signing abilities to shame. My biggest takeaway is how I can incorporate sign language into my daily life.

Describe your experience in one word:
Worthwhile


Courtney Carr 
Courtney Carr
Elementary education junior from Perry, Michigan
Social issue: Children's healthcare

Tell us about your Alternative Break:
We served the Children's Hospital of New Orleans. I worked with the "Art Cart," which had donated coloring books, crayons and reading materials for children to keep. I took that around to their rooms and handed them out. I also helped set up children's Christmas parties.

What did you learn?
Almost every patient and parent I saw had a smile on their face. They are going through struggles of their very own and they were still as kindhearted as ever. Those parents have a lot of strength!

Describe your experience in one word:
Welcomed.​


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