Alternative spring break trips offer chance to learn through helping others

By Kimber Williams | Emory Report | Jan. 26, 2016

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Students participating in the homelessness immersion trip will sleep outdoors or in shelters, have a limited food budget and walk miles each day between service locations. Emory Photo/Video

Emory University and Oxford College students seeking substance in their Spring Break experience are invited to apply for 2016 Alternative Spring Break trips, offered March 5-12 with a focus on service and learning opportunities.

From exploring social justice issues and the impact of poverty to examining topics of educational inequality, hunger, children's healthcare, urban poverty, refugee aid, and homelessness, the local and regional service trips are built around experiential learning.

Organized by Volunteer Emory and Leadership Oxford during fall, winter and spring breaks, the trips are designed and led by students to nurture meaningful development through projects that offer community engagement, exposure to social justice issues and cultural events, and a unique hands-on education.

"Alternative Breaks is best described as an immersive form of service," says Courtney Jones-Stevens, assistant director for community engagement in Emory's Center for Community Engagement and Leadership.

"This academic year we have over 19 trips that will go to locations throughout the Southeast, plus an international trip that went to Nicaragua to participate in a week-long English language camp."

The mission of each trip is to allow students to collaborate with non-profits and community change agents through service projects and cultural experiences. Group sizes vary between 12 and 20 participants; though the trips are partially subsidized, students typically fundraise a large portion of the fees associated with the trip.

"If a student has ever felt the spark to participate in community service or learn more about social justice issues, we hope they'll get involved and bring something back and continue to be involved in service during their time at Emory," says Jones-Stevens.

Applications for Alternative Spring Break are being accepted now through Jan. 30 for trips based out of Emory's Atlanta campus and up to Feb.  5 for trips coordinated through the Oxford College campus.

Trips offered this year through Emory's Atlanta campus:

Interconnected: Rethinking Place and Community in Charleston, South Carolina: Participants explore the interrelated nature of social injustices including housing injustice and homelessness, racial injustice and discrimination, and environmental injustice. Service work includes housing development projects, volunteering with shelters for persons experiencing homelessness, habitat restoration and protection, and more.

Life is a Beautiful Ride: Education Inequality in New Orleans, Louisiana: Many families and communities affected by Hurricane Katrina are still recovering from its aftermath. This trip will focus on bridging the gap in learning efficacy in children of different socioeconomic backgrounds among the youth of New Orleans.

Hiding in Plain Sight: Homelessness Immersion in Atlanta: Students will immerse themselves in a simulation of homelessness for five days and four nights in the Greater Atlanta area while visiting and serving agencies geared towards helping individuals experiencing homelessness. The goal is to gain an in-depth perspective of how homelessness develops, how homelessness is being addressed in Atlanta, and what issues these agencies are tackling.

Children's Environmental Health in Perry County, Kentucky: This trip will focus on the environmental factors affecting the health of low-income communities in the coal-mining region of Eastern Kentucky, specifically targeting pediatric populations. Using an interdisciplinary approach, students will explore health care concerns in Appalachia, participate in public health advocacy/education, and gain exposure to hands-on clinical work to better how understand a series of factors have impacted the health and lifestyle of the people of  this region.

Beneath the Surface: Exposing the Levels of Poverty in Jacksonville, Florida: Though Florida often conjures up images of sun, sand and recreation, one in every six Floridians was living in poverty in 2014. This trip illuminates the hidden faces of poverty. The focus will be urban poverty, specifically work with individuals affected by homelessness, families struggling to provide for themselves, male veterans, and people with disabilities. Volunteers will partner with organizations that combat urban poverty, including a soup kitchen, a clothing distribution center, an after-school program, a food bank and a nonprofit working with people with disabilities.

Pur-Siouan Preservation: Contemporary Native American Issues in Bolton, North Carolina: Participants will serve the Waccamaw Siouan Tribe, one of the eight state-recognized tribal nations in North Carolina, to learn about Pan-Native American culture while exploring the intricate social justice issues that have arisen for Native Americans in the 21st century. Volunteers will revitalize residences of the sick and elderly, work with the tribal youth group and help support common tribal spaces.

Trips offered through Oxford College:

Refugee Relief in Nashville, Tennessee: Participants will partner with World Relief Nashville, an organization that provides aid and support to refugees from around the world with housing, employment, medical care, transportation, English language tutoring and emergency food assistance. Students will sort donations for refugees, work with immigrant youth and participate in childcare.

Hunger Alleviation in Orlando, Florida: Volunteers will join in the work of Stop Hunger Now, an organization that strives to end hunger by providing food and life-changing aid to the world's most vulnerable populations through meal-packaging programs currently operating in 20 cities in the U.S., South Africa, Malaysia, Italy, Peru and the Philippines. Students will have a chance to package food to ship abroad, undergo "hunger ambassador" training and work with local food banks.

*Note: These trips will be offered to a combined total of 30-40 Oxford students and 4-6 staff members. Cost per student is $100-$200; final cost will be confirmed upon participant selection, which will be announced by Feb. 12. View applications and information.