Mizzou students focus on service during school breaks

Instead of the typical wild week in Panama City, 636 MU students spent their 2014 spring break a bit differently this year by going on one of 52 Mizzou Alternative Break trips.

Mizzou Alternative Breaks, formerly known as Alternative Spring Break, recently changed its name to account for the fact that trips now run throughout the entire school year, not just during spring break.

Mizzou Alternative Breaks sends students to locations across the country for a week of service. From Florida to South Dakota and from Michigan to New Mexico, much of the United States is covered. Each trip focuses on a specific issue, such as animal welfare, women’s rights, or homelessness and poverty.

“As a program, we hope that these types of experiences will encourage our students to become more active citizens on Mizzou’s campus, in their home communities, and beyond,” said Michael Loida, the director of winter service for Mizzou Alternative Breaks.

Each trip is led by two site leaders who choose their site teams from a pool of more than 1,000 anonymous applications. After a week of living and working with one another, participants on a trip often form tight-knit groups.

“I loved the camaraderie and compassion that everyone put forth to serve the community,” said Sydnie Merriman, a sophomore who went with the program to Taos, N.M.

Students on these trips share a common goal of serving others. In the process, students get the opportunity to discover unfamiliar places and cultures. These trips also offer opportunities to take responsibility and practice leadership.

“I applied to be a site leader because I loved my previous Alternative Spring Break trip,” said Tina Zhang, a site leader who led a trip this year to Fort Thompson, S.D., to deal with Native American issues. “A year later, I have led a trip to the same wonderful place, and it has been amazing to see how much progress has been made since then, but how our friendships with the local residents remained the same.”

Every year, Mizzou students come back from these trips with countless stories. Some of these stories are funny, some are sad, and some explain how participants gained a new perspective on an issue about which they had no previous knowledge.

“An alternative break trip provides a student the chance to obtain a greater understanding and appreciation for the unique issues that human beings encounter,” Loida said. “It is more than just a week of service. It is a social and cultural awakening”

For the 2014 school year, Mizzou Alternative Breaks plans to expand the program with more winter, weekend, international and Thanksgiving break trips. The program also hopes to have a summer trip in 2015.

For more information about Mizzou Alternative Breaks and how you can get involved, visit asb.missouri.edu.