Alternative Breaks Celebrates 25 Years at SMU


March 13, 2012

By Sarah Hanan
SMU News

In 1988, students participating in SMU’s first alternative spring break trips traveled to a Brownsville, Texas, refugee camp and a New Orleans soup kitchen. The program had taken shape the year before, offering students the opportunity to use their time off to perform community service.

This year, SMU Alternative Breaks is celebrating the 25th anniversary of its founding and its 100th trip, which the student organization marked by returning to Brownsville. Alternative Breaks now offers 14 trips during fall, winter, spring and summer breaks and has more than 150 student, faculty and staff participants – an all-time high.

Alternative Spring Break in Tennessee in 2009
Students went to Tennessee in 2009.
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“Every trip makes a difference not only in the communities we visit, but also in the lives of the people who take part,” says senior Matthew Gayer, the organization’s director since 2010. “The trips take us away from Dallas and out of our comfort zones, allowing us to really focus on social issues such as hunger and health.”

Alternative Breaks is housed in SMU’s Community Engagement & Leadership Center, which supports initiatives including service-learning and leadership training. Carol Clyde, the center’s director, says students increasingly are demonstrating an interest in community service activities. “Forty-two percent of incoming students say they’re likely to participate, up from 31 percent just eight years ago,” Clyde says. “When students realize the positive impact they can make in a community, they realize their responsibilities as global citizens.”

During spring break 2012, March 10-18, Alternative Breaks is traveling to:

  • Atlanta, to work at organizations serving veterans and the homeless;
  • Boston, to volunteer with the city’s homeless services bureau;
  • Crawfordville, Florida, to perform environmental restoration;
  • Denver, to serve with Habitat for Humanity;
  • Los Angeles, to volunteer with AIDS Project of Los Angeles, which serves people of all ages with HIV and AIDS;
  • New York, to serve at a food bank and deliver food across the city;
  • Taos, New Mexico, to tutor children and work on a farm at a rural charter school;
  • Window Rock, Arizona, to work on community development and education issues with Native Americans;
  • Quito, Ecuador, to teach children and support community development.

Follow Alternative Breaks during spring break on SMU Adventures.

Gayer is a President’s Scholar majoring in public policy and political science, with minors in economics, biology and human rights, in Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences. As of spring break 2012, he will have participated in 10 Alternative Break trips since his first year at SMU, including to Arkansas to rebuild after destructive tornadoes and to Ecuador to tutor children.

SMU Alternatives Breaks organized Christmas parties at a Brownsville, Texas, community center during winter break.
Students organized Christmas parties at a Brownsville community center during winter break 2011.
“These trips go beyond just one week of service,” says Gayer, who was awarded a prestigious Truman Scholarship in 2011. “For the participants, we offer education before and after the trips about incorporating service into their lives. We’re also returning to these communities year after year to build long-term relationships with SMU.”

Jillian Frederick, a sophomore anthropology major in Dedman College, participated in the 100th anniversary trip to Brownsville during winter break. She and seven other SMU students worked at the Good Neighbor Settlement House, where they planned several Christmas parties for families in need.

“We wrapped 500 presents that had been donated by the community, and we filled an auditorium with decorations,” says Frederick, who is leading the spring break trip to Boston. “We had as much fun as the families. It was amazing to think that 25 years ago, SMU students had traveled to Brownsville with the same goals and excitement to serve.”

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