Alternative Breakers Strive to Make a Difference

By Samantha Pitkin

The University of Maryland offers a variety of alternative break trip options during spring, summer, and winter breaks for students who are looking to make a difference in both national and international communities.

Alternative Breaks (AB) is sponsored by the Adele H. Stamp Student Union, and partners with Break Away, a non-profit organization that promotes alternative breaks across college campuses. Alternative Break trips range from Baltimore, Maryland to Los Andes, Guatemala and focus on issues such as poverty, socioeconomic equity and urban agriculture.

Nneka Mezu, a junior cell biology major, traveled with a group of Maryland students over spring break to her hometown of Baltimore, Maryland to work with people living below the poverty line.

“We focused on homelessness and affordable housing in Baltimore,” Mezu said. “We went to soup kitchens, a women’s shelter and a lot of transitional housing programs.”

The AB group stayed in a local church and tried to abide by the “live simply” mantra by buying groceries according to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as the Food Stamp Program, standards. Budgeting for food wasn’t very difficult because of the money-saving deals grocery stores have, but the participants had to be careful with their portions to ensure that they would have enough for the whole week, according to Mezu.

Although Mezu stayed in-state for her spring AB trip, the majority of Alternative Break participants travel out of Maryland, and even out of the country, to communities in need of volunteers.

Karyn Owens, a senior plant sciences major, is traveling to Boston for the second year in a row this summer, this time as a trip leader rather than a participant. Fifteen students and three student trip leaders are attending the trip, which focuses on the local food movement and urban agriculture in and around the Boston area.

“We’re looking at community and rooftop gardens and working with Community Servings in Jamaica Plain,” Owens said. “They’re just starting to locally source their food and they’re open to working with AB teams which makes things easier.”

Although the Alternative Break participants are busy for most of the day volunteering and traveling to and from the volunteer sites, they will have at least one day to sleep in and go sightseeing, according to Owens. Spending 24 hours a day together can seem daunting when it’s with people you don’t know, but the students make the most of it.

“You’re starting out as complete strangers and you just grow so close to people, it’s definitely a bonding experience,” Owens said.

Last year, participants were not expecting the cold New England weather, and had a difficult time getting inspired to go outside to work, so they are hoping for warmer weather this time, according to Owens.

The goal of volunteering in these urban agricultural areas is to educate the participants and give them a taste of what farm life consists of, according to Owens.

“Food is something that applies to everyone,” Owens said. “Everyone eats and everyone should know where their food is coming from so we try to explore that.”

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