Commentary: Mizzou Alternative Breaks Gives New Meaning to ‘Spring Break’

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Students work to improve various communities through the Mizzou Alternative Breaks program. Photo Courtesy of the Mizzou program.

Mizzou Alternative Breaks is an entirely student-led program located on the University of Missouri campus. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, an alternative break seeks to utilize students’ vacation time from school, not as a break for students, but as a way to give back to communities. Since 1991, the program has sent groups of 12 students across the country over spring, winter, and weekend breaks to work on various service issues.

MAB aims to provide students with experiences that offer them the seeds needed to grow into active and united citizens. By igniting a passion for service in this generation, MAB promotes the idea that grassroots service is something greater than a week or a single event – it is a movement that starts with caring about the people around you and the community that brings you together. And we are so proud to say it’s grown to be the largest alternative breaks program in the U.S.

This organization means so much to our student body. College students can easily get swept up in a “it’s all about me” mentality. College is a time for students to decide who they are and who they want to be, but being a part of a group that asks on a weekly basis, “What’s going on in the world around us?” and “What can we do to be an ally?” is a pertinent reality check.

MAB has seven principles that drive the program: Serve Don’t Help, Communicate Love, This Is It, Unplug, Be Gumby, Poco A Poco, and Bring It Home. All of our trips are centered by these seven ideas and we take them very seriously. For example, participants are expected to go to a community to selflessly serve them, not to simply help. We feel that “helping” is more about the person who is trying to help instead of about other people or issues. We are not saviors, we are not going to change the world in one week. Instead, we are going to serve communities by providing services that they have requested from us. While that may not change the entire world, hopefully it will change someone’s life. And it’s so exciting to see what we can accomplish all together. 

The Mizzou group volunteers at the residential treatment center at The Children's Shelter of San Antonio. Photo Courtesy of the Mizzou program.

A Mizzou member helps sort items at the residential treatment center at The Children’s Shelter of San Antonio. Photo Courtesy of the Mizzou program.

The community that is developed through Mizzou Alternative Breaks is one-in-a-million. Individuals  who were selected to be site leaders and plan the trips meet with the MAB executive board – also formed by students– regularly, and the group becomes quite close-knit. 

From all the extracurricular activities I participate in at Mizzou, MAB is easily the most unique. Students with completely different personalities and backgrounds are brought together by the shared desire to serve others. Being a part of this group has put me in contact with some of the most inspiring people I’ve ever met– and that’s just the leaders. The real fun begins when everyone drafts their participants. Many people see joining MAB as an opportunity to meet people at the university that they never would have had the opportunity to meet otherwise. We spend about six months planning the trips before we ever meet the people that we’re taking with us. Hundreds of students applied for a recent Spring Break trip, and my partner and I selected 10 amazing students to accompany us on our trip to San Antonio.

Our group was assigned the “Children” category of service, and from there we found The Children’s Shelter. MAB has maintained a long-lasting working relationship with this organization, and past participants have had nothing but great things to say about their experience, so we keep coming back! Countless students have spoken highly of the organization’s hard-working and dedicated employees, heart-warming kids, and how much their eyes have been opened to ending the cycle of abuse and neglect. Our group is here now in the footsteps of our past groups, ready to work and eager to learn.

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*Top Image: Students work to improve various communities through the Mizzou Alternative Breaks program. Photo Courtesy of the Mizzou program.

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