Alternative Break Programs Encourage Students to Volunteer


Courtesy of Alternative Breaks

Though some events have been cancelled, students interested in Alternative Breaks still have the chance participate in future dates.

Through Alternative Spring Break, Alternative Summer Break, Service Saturdays and MI Breaks, UM-Flint students have the opportunity to volunteer during their break time. 

“Alternative Spring Break is an opportunity for students to volunteer in the local community, here in Flint,” said Gary Ashley, who is the program manager. “A lot of campuses send students away for spring break, but since 2008 we’ve made a commitment to serving the city of Flint.” 

One of the volunteer locations was Habitat for Humanity, which was the organization Morgan McFarlin, a member of the program’s executive board and a student at the university, decided to volunteer for.

“We worked on a building near Kettering University,” said McFarlin. “It’s going to be a restaurant on the first floor, and the second floor has two two-bedroom apartments. It’s just the skeleton of the building right now, so we actually cut pieces of wood to nail to the walls and we nailed hurricane ties, which I had never even heard of before this trip.” 

After being a General Board Member last year, McFarlin wanted to become more involved in the program. So, by networking with friends, she moved up to the Executive Board, where she expanded her responsibility and was able to select sites for volunteers to choose from. 

“I had been really close with people that were on previous boards,” said McFarlin. “One of my really close friends was the one who got me involved and asked me if I would be interested. She got me the position on the board.” 

A majority of the planning for these events is done by student board members, including McFarlin.

“Students run these,” said Ashley. “I just make sure everything is moving in the right direction. I do volunteer with the students and I love doing it! It’s a great opportunity to connect with students and build relationships. ”

As student-led events, Alternative Breaks allow board members to practice leadership as well as volunteer in the community. Executive Board Members McFarlin and Sarah Ellsworth are responsible for contacting charity organizations for volunteers to work with, planning meals for volunteers, designating meeting places and overseeing the events. 

Each program offers different organizations for students to work with, allowing them to pursue their interests. 

Since becoming the program adviser, Ashley has expanded the program and partnered with more organizations to ensure that students can work with a charity important to them. 

“When I started in 2008 it was only Alternative Spring Break,” said Ashley. “Now we have Service Saturdays, MI Breaks, and Alternative Summer Break. We do local with ASB [Alternative Spring Break] and Service Saturdays, and we do what I call semi-local with MI Breaks where we travel the state of Michigan, and then our national program is the Alternative Summer Break.”

For Alternative Spring Break and Service Saturdays, participants volunteer for single days where they choose an organization to work with in the Flint area. Because of the recent COVID-19 outbreak, Service Saturdays have been cancelled, but the Alternative Summer Break is still set to continue. 

There won’t be a Service Saturdays in April,” said Ashley. “MiBreak is still currently scheduled, but that could change. I’ll keep the campus updated on that one. ASuB is also still currently scheduled. I’m thinking this should still happen because it’s so far away.” 

MI Breaks take place throughout the year all over Michigan and last for a weekend. Alternative Summer Breaks take place throughout summer, and students will choose a social issue to focus on for a whole week.

McFarlin has participated in three Alternative Spring Breaks and three MI Breaks over her four years at UM-Flint. 

“I [volunteered] a little bit in high school because I was in different groups that did volunteering, like the National Honor Society. I hadn’t done nearly as much as I have in my college career, though.” McFarlin said. “I really like being a part of the community and rebuilding relationships with different people in the community and building relationships with students and faculty here on campus.” 

McFarlin encourages students to participate not only to get involved in the community, but to push their own personal comfort levels. As an example of this, while working with Habitat for Humanity, McFarlin worked on roofing a two-story building and used a circular saw for the first time. 

“I’ve learned a lot about myself, about things that I thought I’d be too afraid to do,” she said. “I was totally fine being on the roof, which I never thought I would be.” 

Upcoming volunteer opportunities are available through Alternative Summer Break and MI Breaks. Interested students can visit the Alternative Breaks website for more information.