A Spring Break of Service

CNU Alternative Breaks gives students service opportunities

While Spring Break offers a chance for students to return home to family, to visit exotic locales abroad, or just time away from the usual routine of coursework and campus life; one group – CNU Alternative Breaks – offers CNU students the chance to use the break for a different kind of purpose. For the better part of the week, twenty CNU students volunteered with two locations, James River State Park (VA) and Project Host (Greenville, SC).

Between the two trips, attending students did just about anything the staff at each location needed them to do. At James River State Park, this team assisted park staff in day-to-day park maintenance needs, while also tackling trail restoration and renovations to a scenic overlook. But when the working day was over, there was plenty of time for fun group activities at lodging provided by the park; such as nature walks, stargazing, and bonfires. Maddie Collier, a sophomore with a huge interest in bugs said the following: “My favorite part of the trip was making s’mores! We also used a telescope to look at the moon!”

On the Greenville Trip, volunteers helped the organization with their aims to support and reduce food insecurity in that local community through preparing and serving meals, and all supporting functions to that operation. When there was downtime, there was just as much time to explore the Greenville Zoo and the downtown area during their afternoons and evenings, with a home base of a local church, Westminster Presbyterian Church.

Transport for both trips were provided through CNU bussing, and all meals were provided for through a sizable budget, most of them being prepared by a trip leader. Outside of the work done each day as part of service, or the group activities, there was plenty of downtime for everyone to bond through games of UNO or Netflix watch parties. Of those approached for interview, no one had anything negative to say about the experience as a whole, with a common feeling of gratitude for the opportunity, expressing a desire to attend future trips from the organization. The next trips of this kind will be the upcoming Fall Break next semester, still to be finalized by AltBreaks.

CNU Alternative Breaks, formerly called REACH (Raising Educational Awareness through Compassion and Humanity), does these sorts of service trips every spring and fall break. AltBreaks started in earnest as a component to PLP, but went on to be one of the campus anchor organizations. AltBreaks would grow each year, and before COVID-19 there were anywhere between 4 to 6 trips each spring break to locations across the Commonwealth of Virginia and down in the Carolinas. They pride themselves on pairing service with a positive community from which lasting friendships can be made.

One final point of clarification is that each trip is organized by CNU Students, every single person attending the trip is a CNU student, except a chaperone – who in most cases is a recent graduate from the University. Each crew has two trip leaders, one in charge of Logistics and the other in charge of training/reflections.

Allison Burbach, an outgoing senior who has been around plenty to see a complete picture of the organization pre/post COVID-19, was the logistics trip leader for the James River Crew. She spoke about the sheer responsibility of managing a trip of this size: “As someone with a keen attention to detail, I wanted every aspect of the trip to run smoothly, but my greatest leadership takeaway was that I needed to be more flexible when unpredictable external factors arose (weather, meal plan).” She then went on to offer her hopes for the future of the organization, “With two successful trips this spring break, I hope in the following years we can continue to increase the number of trips offered back to pre-pandemic levels and get more students engaged in an immersive service experience that I believe is truly unique and I want more students to have the opportunity to serve in this way.”

I also had the chance to speak with Paitan Jones, a freshman student who is very involved in the campus, especially relating to service. She spoke about how service with AltBreaks has affected her as a person, “As a volunteer with AltBreaks, I have learned a lot about the community in the Hampton Roads area, as well as outside of it… As a trip leader in the Spring for (the trip to) Greenville, South Carolina, I learned a lot about social justice, poverty, and homelessness. Along with these topics, I learned about empathy, kindness, and service. AltBreaks gives you the opportunity to grow not only as a leader, but as a human too… trip leading is open to everyone and there is an application every year for leading both our Fall and Spring break trips.”