How to plan a service break and make a difference helping an underserved population

Alternative Spring Break Volunteers

Alternative Spring Break Volunteers (Photo credit: vastateparksstaff)

Spring break is coming up fast, and if you’re looking for a way to have fun, give back to the world and beef up your resume, it’s time to start planning. If you want to meet new people and do something productive, maybe a service break or alternative spring break (ASB) could be just the break from routine you are looking for. A service break, or ASB, involves serving in one of a number of locations either in the US or abroad to help an underserved population. The time you spend helping others can be a transformational experience and education for both you and the people you are serving. Follow these tips on how to plan a service break and make a difference in the world.

Reasons to go

There are an endless number of service trips available to college students through your school, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and private, independently run programs. Why participate? Here are some reasons to pack your bags:

  • Exposure to complex social and cultural issues
  • Ability to advocate for social change
  • Development of hands-on work skills
  • Improved communication and/or foreign language skills
  • New insight into the global market

As Alexis explains in her December 21, 2012 blog post to Cross-Cultural Solutions, “Top 5 reasons to take an alternative spring break,” an ASB is your opportunity to give back to those who really can use your help.

“Spread the love and share all of the good vibes that you’ve enjoyed with somebody whose culture is different from your own,” Alexis writes. “Somebody who can seriously benefit from your perspective, enthusiasm, and passion. And somebody who has so much to share with you as well.”

Programs to consider

Just a sampling of subject areas to wrap your head around include:

  • The environment
  • Disaster relief
  • Restorative justice
  • Urban ministry
  • Economic development
  • Farming and racial reconciliation
  • Gang intervention

Things to keep in mind

Cost: service breaks can be expensive. The cost of airfare alone can be intimidating. Look into the possibility of getting college credit for part of your trip to get the most out of your investment. Also, consider hosting a fundraiser to help offset costs.

A May 12, 2010 post to, “Five Tips to Help you Fund an Alternative Spring Break for your Students,” offers helpful advice on how to raise the money you’ll need. Very important: Don’t procrastinate!

Deadlines: Every program has a different deadline for service breaks. Some are as early as September or October for the spring, while others are toward the beginning of the semester. Again, start your research as early as possible so you don’t miss out!

Forming your own group

For those who may have a very specific service break in mind, or have a group of friends looking to participate together, consider forming your own ASB. In this way, the sky’s the limit when it comes to building a volunteer project, and you have the freedom to target practically any activity you want and plan the project’s outcomes. Of course, with this freedom comes a lot more footwork and preparation. You may want to consider hiring an organization to help with the logistics or recruit an academic advisor to keep things on track.

In “5 Steps to an Alternative Spring Break,” a February 27, 2012 blog post to Verge Magazine, writer Jessica Lockhart recommends building realistic expectations while putting together your dream trip.

“If you do decide to volunteer overseas during your ASB, ensure that your team has a realistic idea of what they will accomplish,” Lockhart writes. “Despite your best intentions, it can be difficult to make valuable contributions to the development of a community in as little as one week. Try to choose an organization that will build your team’s project into a larger workplan. That way, you can rest assured knowing that although it’s unlikely you’ll see the program from start to finish, your contributions will fit into a larger development framework and support a long-term goals.”

Service break opportunity: “Your Cause, Your Break! The CengageBrain Alternative Spring Break Contest!”

Get sponsored! CengageBrain is sponsoring one lucky group to take an alternative spring break — up to five college students per service group for $500 per person. That could mean a total of $2,500 towards your service project! The top two projects will be narrowed down by CengageBrain, then voting to select the winner will be up to you on CengageBrain’s Facebook page!

Some criteria to qualify:

  • Is within the continental U.S.
  • Benefits an underserved population
  • Lasts for a minimum of three (3) days
  • Must blog, live tweet, or agree to an interview after completion
  • Have a clearly outlined mission and plans for the funds

For more information on this opportunity and to submit your entry, visit our Facebook app.

For more information on how to plan a service break, try‘s “Alternative Break Manual” and MyPathFinder‘s “Spring Break: Alternative Experience College Students” guide.

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