Alternative Spring Break tackles social, environmental issues

Monday, July 28, 2008 | 2:25 p.m. CDT; updated 3:08 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 28, 2008

It was her junior year, and Mary Jo Ryan, now 23, spent Spring Break volunteering in Atlanta. The most influential place she said she volunteered was a substance abuse rehabilitation house. Ryan and her team of fellow students had been there only five or six hours when, after dinner, the men shared openly, even crying, about their dependency issues. For Ryan, it was an experience that continues to influence her today.

Ryan went to Atlanta with a group of 12 students from MU, all of whom wanted an alternative Spring Break instead of one spent at a beach. Alternative Spring Break is an organization that works in conjunction with the Office of Community Involvement under the umbrella of MU's Student Life Office.

What to expect

What to expect from your service-learning class:

Direct and intensive service activities that you feel are important - You will participate in service for approximately 3 hours a week, depending on the program in which you enroll.

Class work that builds on and enhances the service experience - You will discuss your service with others and reflect on how you have grown and what you have learned.

A clear idea of your service goals and how they tie into your class.

A direct connection with the recipients of your service - You will be fulfilling needs that they have clearly defined, not just performing unnecessary or unwanted tasks.

A clear idea of what you should do - You will receive training and support for your activities.

A program that is committed to participation by and with diverse populations - The program will make every effort to include and make welcome persons from differing ethnic, racial and religious backgrounds, as well as varied ages, genders, economic levels and those with disabilities.


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The organization sends teams of students to do service projects in areas affected by social or environmental issues across the United States. Last year, eight teams of students participated. Students worked in domestic abuse shelters and at soup kitchens and assisted disadvantaged children and the homeless. They helped endangered animals and improved shelters and infrastructure in communities.

Alternative Spring Break began in 1991. According to its Web site, the mission has been to "educate a diverse group of students about specific social and environmental issues by immersing them in communities across the nation to engage in meaningful, direct service" and to "build future leaders that are active, conscientious citizens with knowledge and concern for solving our nation's most pressing social and environmental problems."

The trip not only made an impact on Ryan, she said, but it made a difference in the lives of those the students were serving.

"Our example, just being there, made a difference in (the men's) lives. We were what they wanted for their kids (to become)," Ryan said.


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