Offering an opportunity to interact with unique communities and people across the country, 120 students participated in Wisconsin Union Directorate’s Alternative Breaks program over spring break.

The Alt Breaks program coordinates trips every winter, spring and summer that provide participants with the opportunity to travel, serve and change lives, including their own. Through Alt Breaks, University of Wisconsin students have the option to travel to places all around the country on a low-cost budget while donating their time and labor to a variety of volunteer services.

Student were offered the opportunity to travel to Detroit, Michigan; the Appalachian Mountains; Everglades National Park in Florida; Naples, Florida; Nashville, Tennessee; Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina; New Orleans, Louisiana; New York City; Boston, Massachusetts; and a few other areas, according to the WUD Alt Breaks website.

Volunteering efforts ranged from Habitat for Humanity, homeless shelters in well-known cities, wildlife sanctuaries, community recovery projects, environmental restoration and various educational purposes, the website said.

“As students we tend to get really caught up in what we’re doing and [Alt Breaks] gives us a reminder of what we’ll be doing after graduation and how we’ll be able to make an impact in the community that we’re in,” Alt Breaks program assistant director Kim Ebner said.

Maja Ivanovic, a UW sophomore studying neurobiology and psychology, is deciding whether to pursue either law school or medical school post-graduation and said her experience through Alt Breaks gave her invaluable insight for her decision-making.

Ivanovic recently returned from an Alt Break in the small Appalachian village Gilbert in West Virginia. Deep mining and service mining industries directly affect the health of individuals in this town of less than 500 residents, she said.

“I thought it was a unique opportunity to meet people who were very unlike me and had a very different upbringing,” Ivanovic said. “It was a way to have a fun spring break, but also positively impact people’s lives as well as learn something from it.”

Through an organization called Restoring Eden, Ivanovic and nine other UW students worked with a researcher from the School of Public Health at Indiana University to survey the local people about their living conditions, health problems and quality of life, Ivanovic said.

One of Ivanovic’s biggest takeaways from the experience was how friendly and welcoming the people were. Many of the families welcomed them into their homes, showed them around or offered them food and beverages, she said.

Ivanovic’s partner while conducting surveys was an international student from China who she says she probably would never have met on campus had they not been paired up for Alt Breaks.

Alt Breaks has been an active organization on campuses nationwide for almost 30 years and UW’s chapter has been running since 1990, Director Jake Heyka, A UW senior studying political science and international studies, said.

What makes Alt Breaks unique is that it is entirely student-led and coordinated with supervision of a faculty advisor, Heyka said.

It operates in partnership with WUD, which provides insurance for each trip and keeps trips within low-cost budgets, Ebner said. Prices range from $250 to $600 depending on travel expenses, she said.

The planning committee is made up of 50 members and has access to thorough information about all the previous Alt Breaks trips taken over the years, Heyka said. They do background checks and risk management reports to ensure the organizations they collaborate with are running ethical practices, he said.

Students can also suggest an alternative break option to the committee, Heyka said.

Opportunities to apply for summer alternative breaks ends this Thursday and further information about the application process will be sent out in an all-campus email early this week.

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