CMU Alternative Breaks named No. 1 in nation

Program ranked first for number of participants and trips

| Author: Logan Pellegrom and Ari Harris | Media Contact: Aaron Mills

Central Michigan University's Alternative Breaks program has been ranked No. 1 in the nation in the 2021-22 National Alternative Breaks Survey by Break Away.

The ranking system considers both the number of students participating in Alternative Breaks and the number of trips hosted during the year. Out of 27 participating institutions, including public and private colleges and universities, CMU had both the highest number of participants and the most trips.

“Part of CMU’s mission is to create responsible global citizens and that is the Alternative Breaks program. They help people become a community-minded, responsible, global citizen,” said Erica Johnson, director of the Mary Ellen Brandell Volunteer Center.

Returning to pre-pandemic levels

Nearly three years since its last out-of-state trip, CMU’s Alternative Breaks program is preparing to return in full with four out-of-state breaks this winter. Student groups will travel to North Carolina, Wisconsin, Georgia and Louisiana and partner with local nonprofit organizations.

Alternative Breaks, a flagship program of the Mary Ellen Brandell Volunteer Center, provides students the opportunity to participate in direct-service volunteer experiences dedicated to social justice. The breaks occur year-round and feature larger, out-of-state trips during winter, spring and summer breaks when students can opt to spend their vacation time giving back. Other experiences, at the local and state level, also are scheduled throughout the year.

“This is such a cornerstone program at CMU that has been missing for the past few years because of the pandemic,” said Symantha Dattilo, assistant director for the Mary Ellen Brandell Volunteer Center at CMU. “We could not be more excited to bring back these opportunities for our students.”

CMU’s Alternative Breaks program is touted as one of the best in the country and, before the pandemic, was one of the largest in the U.S. The winter 2019 session — the last before the pandemic — sent out 27 groups of 12 students each. The 27 separate trips and 324 students made CMU’s Alternative Breaks the fourth largest program in the U.S. and No. 1 in the state of Michigan.

Students participating in an Alternative Break smile as they are gathered, sitting in a room.

 “We are thrilled to offer these opportunities again and the week-long experience enhances students’ learning, fun and skill development. It is time well spent,” Johnson said.

The program has not been completely stalled since winter 2019, however. Several local, mid-Michigan breaks have taken place over the past year and planning for the return of larger breaks has been months in the making.

As the program returns to full capability, Johnson and Dattilo are determined and optimistic it will return to a top-4 size program once again. The winter 2022 breaks will consist of four groups of 10 as the program rebuilds awareness among new CMU students and reconnects with nonprofit site partners for future trips. Johnson and Dattilo said many of their site partners from previous years have already reached out to begin discussions.

Registration for winter 2022 breaks opened Sept. 20 and registration for spring 2023 breaks opens October 25 at 7:30 a.m. on Engage Central. Breaks cost $350 to participate; the cost includes transportation, meals, lodging, trained site leaders, an on-call 24/7 CMU advisor, and all materials required to perform the service on the break.

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