Alternative Breaks impacts students’ perceptions

Frances Myers

ISU students got the chance to make a difference and witness firsthand social issues plaguing the nation, while discovering what an impact these issues have on people today, thanks to Iowa State Alternative Breaks.

This year for Alternative Breaks, four trips were scheduled to go to Cranks Creek, Kan.; Kansas City, Mo.; Cincinnati, Ohio; and Eagle Butte, S.D. One fraternal greek trip was also offered for Indianapolis for the first time ever.

The trips centered around four specific social concerns this year: Native American issues, rural poverty, childcare and homelessness. Students who applied for the trips were asked to rank their preference in working with these areas with their most wanted issue.

Jeritt Tucker, graduate in psychology, was a site leader trainer and site leader for the Cheyenne Youth River Project trip on the Cheyenne River Reservation in Eagle Butte. This group worked to design lessons for after school programming for children ages 4 to 17.

The programming is set up as an alternative for other after school activities which may be less positive for the youth. The alternative breaks group also worked to help out with the CYRP day-to-day operations such as transporting goods, collecting donations, and presenting at the local high school about opportunities and life in college.

Tucker originally became involved in 2010 as a way to explore his psychology major outside of Iowa State. He said the South Dakota trip had quite the impact on him.

“I am part Blackfoot and Cherokee Indian,” Tucker said. “[The trip] taught me a great deal about my own tendencies and abilities, a lot about the particular social justice issues facing Native Americans, the effects of ethnocentrism and monoculturalism that dominates American society, and also taught me about my own cultural heritage.”

Kristy Carter, junior in meteorology, also attended the South Dakota  trip.

“The children and teenagers I saw and interacted with on a daily basis opened my eyes to a completely different lifestyle than anything I have seen before,” Carter said. “From hearing their stories I now realize how much I have taken my own upbringing for granted. I have come back with a better appreciation of what it means to be a mentor as well.

“Seeing the impact I made on some of the kids’ faces by just being there and listening to what they had to say made my time on the reservation worth every minute. I think I learned more in the course of a week than I have in some classes over the course of a semester.”

Amy Scallon, senior in biology, became involved with Alternative Breaks when she felt she needed a change of pace and a chance to do something meaningful with her time. This year she attended the trip to the Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless.

The group worked for a week serving meals at three different soup kitchens. The group also cleaned up and painted an apartment that is typically used for affordable housing for the homeless people of Cincinnati.

Scallon said the trip made her come back a different, more worldly person, more aware of the homeless issues facing thousands of people today.

“My trip opened my eyes to a world beyond Ames and the state of Iowa,” Scallon said. “I had never seen such poverty and homelessness as I did in Cincinnati.”

“It made me realize how fortunate I am to have the life I do. It also made me realize how strong my passion for service really is, and through Alternative Breaks I have found that serving others must be an important part of my life even after I leave college.”

Another group was sent to work at Operation Breakthrough, “a nationally accredited, not-for-profit corporation that began in 1971 as a response to requests from parents in the central city for quality childcare for children of the working poor.”

The center currently hosts more than 600 children from low-income families and has a waiting list of 1,100 children.

ISU students in this group worked with children in the center. During the day, they helped out with various projects such as making artwork for the classrooms and sorting donations at a warehouse.

Laura Coombs, senior in management, was a site leader for the Kansas City trip.

“I learned a great deal about poverty, an issue that I had never learned much about living in Iowa,” Coombs said. “I learned about the culture of Kansas City, and I had a great team to share it with.”

“Each night our group reflected about our daily experience, and this allowed us to come together and become more motivated. I learned new ways to perceive the issue of poverty, and I realized that we usually don’t understand the situation.”

“This was my best college experience. I learned about a social issue I had never been exposed to before, and I met a great group of students.”

Lucy O’Connor, freshman in family and consumer science education and studies, experienced her first Alternative Breaks trip in Kansas City at Operation Breakthrough as well.

“I enjoy volunteering and wanted to spend my break helping those in need,” O’Connor said. “I am grateful to have been chosen to go on a trip and work with the great people in my group and the awesome kids at Operation Breakthrough.”

“This trip strengthened my passion for teaching and opened my eyes to the needs of a community not so far from us here in Iowa.”