Some students spent last week basking in the sun and visiting friends and family, but one group of students spent their break serving various communities.
K-State’s Staley School of Leadership Studies in partnership with Break Away, a nonprofit that supports alternative break programs, hosts an Alternative Breaks program each year. Students participating in the opportunity come together through service projects during semester breaks.
Alternative Breaks serves as a way for students to travel to different communities and work with “residents to address a pressing social issue,” according to the Staley School of Leadership Studies’ Alternative Breaks’ website. This semester, students served communities in Denver, Kansas City and Dallas.
“I went to Dallas,” Corinne Stratton, junior in political science, said. “We were in a group of nine students that volunteered at the AIDS Services of Dallas.”
The AIDS Services of Dallas is an organization that creates and develops communities for residents living with HIV or AIDS. Its mission is to do this through “advocacy, education and the development of affordable housing options and community development opportunities, both for its residents living with HIV/AIDS, and for economically disadvantaged people,” according to their website.
K-State has had a partnership with the organization for the past 19 years, so students return to the communities and continue to bond with the residents and finish projects previously started by past students.
“This year, our project was to build a playground while we were there and also paint a mural,” Stratton said. “The mural is something K-State’s volunteers do every year.”
Student volunteers have been building a relationship with more than just the community in Dallas; in fact, most of the destinations for alternative breaks are available through existing partnerships, according to Gabriel Gutierrez, senior in management.
“We’ve had these sites for a while, so we have strong partnerships with them,” Gutierrez said. “These (partnerships) help create impactful learning because we’ve been there a few times with these communities.”
For Stratton, the experience was not just about the bond with the community. It also established a bond within her group.
“We drove (to Dallas) together from Manhattan, about an eight-hour drive each way,” Stratton said. “No one knew each other, so we grew as a group and got to know each other and the community.”
The lasting bonds created during these trips with the community help energize and drive the program, but the most important thing is the service-learning experience for students, Gutierrez said.
“One thing to remember is that this is completely different from a mission trip,” Gutierrez said. “There is a huge impact on service learning. It’s not a trip where you go and do something and that’s it. There are pre-reflections and post-reflections, and that really makes it more meaningful.”
Stratton said she chose to attend the trip because of her future plan to work for a nonprofit organization.
“With this trip, I got to see the inner workings of a nonprofit,” Stratton said. “I got to see the staff and how they interact with the residents and holistically serve them. This experience kept my passion in drive for what I want to do and see it in effect.”