What is an Alternative Break? Bookmark and Share

The objectives of an Alternative Break program are to involve college students in service projects and to give students opportunities to learn about the problems faced by members of communities with whom they otherwise may have had little or no direct contact. Being completely immersed in diverse environments enables participants to experience, discuss, and understand social issues in a significant way.

The Iowa State University Alternative Breaks program seeks to use this community service experience as a springboard into lifelong active citizenship where the community becomes a priority in an individual's life decisions. (Adapted from Break Away, the National Alternative Break organization).

Eight Components of a Quality Alternative Break Experience


Strong direct service

Programs should provide an opportunity for participants to engage in direct or hands on projects and activities that address critical, but unmet social needs determined by the local community. Community interaction is highly encouraged during the break.


Strong alternative break programs include participants representing the range of students present in the campus community. Coordinators should recruit, design, implement and evaluate their program with this end in mind.


Participants should be oriented as to the mission and objectives of both the break program itself and of the host agency or organization with which they will be working.


Programs should include educational sessions which participants attend prior to and perhaps during their break program. These sessions should provide participants with a sense of the history of both the region they will be working in and of the problems they will be working with during the break. Sessions might include written material, guest speakers, a discussion of the issues, a movie, a slide show, etc.


Participants should be provided with adequate training in skills necessary to carry out tasks and projects during the trip. Ideally this training should take place prior to departure, although in some instances it may occur once participants have reached their site. Examples of training include teaching basic construction skills, learning house to work with physically challenged persons, or learning how to test ground water for impurities.


During the trip, participants should be encouraged to reflect upon the experience they are having. Time should be set aside for this activity to take place both as a group and as individuals.


Upon return to campus, programs should have reorientation activities for all participants where they can share their break experiences and translate this experience into a lifelong commitment to active citizenship. Through these activities, participants can learn about volunteer opportunities in their local area, summer internships, political avenues for continued community involvement, resources for continued education on social issues, tips for making personal decisions that benefit the entire community, and much more.

Alcohol and other drug free

Programs should be aware that issues of legality, liability, and personal safety and group cohesion are of concern when alcohol and other drugs are consumed on an alternative break. Programs should provide education and training on alcohol and other drug related issues as well as develop a policy on how these issues as well as develop a policy on how these issues will be dealt with on an alternative break.

Taken from the Break Away Site Leader Survival Manual.


ISU Student Activities Center
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