Alternative to traditional spring break puts focus on service

Spring break is often portrayed as a magical beach wonderland used to escape college life for a week, but one University of Missouri organization uses this break to help serve other communities across the United States.  Alternative Spring Break provides an opportunity for MU students to lead and serve in a wide range of service topics. A total of about 70 sites will be sent out next semester, and with 860 applicants to choose from, this will be Alternative Spring Break’s biggest year to date. However, getting to this number was not an easy task.

“I think it’s hard to convince males to apply,” said Theresa Mullineaux the Director of ASB and a senior at MU. “Typically, less than 20 percent of our applications are males. I think any ASB trip would be good for anyone, let alone male or female.”

Another difficulty that ASB is tasked with is “brand awareness.”

“ASB stands for ‘Alternative Spring Break’ but now we also have ‘Alternative Winter Break’ and ‘Alternative Thanksgiving Break’ trips. It’s hard to say, ‘ASB is doing this, but we have these other options too.’”

Another challenge for ASB executives and leaders is finding comparable figures or results for advice and tips with Alternative Break organizations from other universities because MU ASB is the largest of its kind.

“It’s hard to have a comparison group,” said Bryan Goers, the advisor for ASB. “The closest universities to our numbers in size are Michigan and Florida, but by and far we are the biggest program of our kind.”

All of the logistical work behind the organization goes through the executive board, which is also led by students.

“Currently the board executives are having to deal with two to three service trips intertwining, but it’s pretty cool to see the good leadership and how this program develops leaders,” Goers said.

“We have the logistics and the structure down to run a program. Since we hand pick and train each site leader, we can trust them with ten students,” Mullineaux said.

“ASB is so focused on students,” said Maria Backs, a junior secondary math education major at MU. “We don’t have ‘chaperones’ go on our trips, and I really appreciate that about ASB.”

During the 2013 ASB trips, Backs volunteered as a participant, however, for 2014 she was selected to be a site leader.

“I learned so much on my trip and was challenged to think more about environmental things I had never considered before,” Backs recalled from her time as a participant “In general, I just think the whole trip was fantastic. I met some great new people from Mizzou, got to see a new part of the country, made some great memories, and learned so many lessons I took back with me to Columbia.”

Mullineaux echoed Backs, “The pure point of ASB is providing an outlet to serve and create more active, engaged citizens, no matter where they are at.”

At the core, this is the goal ASB is hoping to achieve. Prior to the actual departure for the Alternative Spring Break there will be a pre-service trip held in the Columbia area that will involve all the trips attending ASB.

“People are definitely realizing the importance of volunteerism and I can’t think of many other organizations that make someone feel as empowered as they do when they leave an ASB trip,” Mullineaux said. “There is such an excitement with volunteering and engaging in the community, and that’s why I really think pre-trip service will really turn out well for us because people will have this excitement before they even leave for their ASB trip.”

The growth of ASB has been exponential. To put it in perspective, there are more site leaders now than there were participants and site leaders combined five years ago. This year almost 1/35 of the student population of MU applied.

“When you think of ‘spring break’ you don’t think of volunteering for a week when you’re in college,” said Mullineaux.

Yet, Mizzou ASB has at least made an impact on certain individuals like Maria Backs.

“This has affected my college career because I think differently about what it means to serve now,” says Backs. “One of ASB’s principles is to serve, not help. So often we think we know what’s best, but ASB taught me that’s not really true. So now, when I’m doing service, I try to just go where I’m needed. I’ve learned that sometimes that’s where you learn the most or even get the most enjoyment.”

Zach Carter

About the Author Zach Carter

Growing up in Lee’s Summit, Missouri, Zach had the best of both worlds. He was able to experience city life while being only minutes away from the corn fields. He recently traveled to Japan for two months, which helped him see the importance of environmental and science writing. “A good journalist is someone who is not only well versed in writing but also experienced in their field” Carter said. Carter is a part of the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources because he feels it will prepare him for many types of journalism, from environmental to agriculture, something that he believes needs to be emphasized. Carter would also like to incorporate his passion for film with majoring in science and agriculture journalism.