PNOLA 2011

I’m so excited to go on an AB trip this year! In the winter I’ll be volunteering
with the Phoenix of New Orleans (PNOLA) for a second time. Last year, I went into complete beast mode and built 15 walls!!! OK, maybe I’m exaggerating a little, but I did put up sheetrock for two walls and a closet. It’s harder than it sounds, but I digress.

When I first went to New Orleans I didn’t know what to expect, and wasn’t quite
prepared for the level of poverty that still permeates the city. It had been five years since Hurricane Katrina and there was still so much to be done. While the trip was difficult at times, I’ll never forget the experiences I had or the friendships I made. I think the best part was actually witnessing the change you made. Usually in service things are a lot more abstract; this can be frustrating for those who lack patience (i.e. me). In New Orleans I knew I was making a difference.

This year I’ll go into the trip with a better understanding of the issues; I’m eager to see the progress that has been made since my last visit. I’ll never truly know the arduous hurdles the victims of Katrina have faced. But I do know that through service, we can turn a story of loss into one of redemption. There is still so much sorrow left in the rubble, but the triumphant spirit of the people overpowers it. Together we will rebuild New Orleans!

Visit their website at:

Author: Essete Workneh

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Let’s hear it for New York, New York, New York!!

Hi everyone! I’m Aliya Prasla and I am a junior at Southern Methodist University! This year I am the site-leader for the Alternative  Breaks trip to New York for Spring break 2012! We are working with God’s Love We Deliver. This is a really amazing organization because they are the “leading provider of nutritious, individually-tailored meals to people who are too sick to shop or cook for themselves.” The organization was started in 1985 with a lady (pictured below) delivering meals to a man dying from AIDS and now they deliver 4,000 meals each day!

At God’s Love We Deliver they are all about food and love! People wake up early every
morning and start cooking soups and sauces! While the soup is being prepared, meat, vegetables and bread are also being cooked! This is a super early riser organization and by 8:00AM, over 1400 soups and 1000 dinner entrees have already been labeled and lidded! There are plenty of other shifts after super early one, and the other shifts work on preparation for the next day’s meals! In every dessert the organization makes, in every dinner entree and soup that it makes there is always a lot of hard-work and love put into it!

We will help in delivering and preparing the food! If you are interested in joining me on this wonderful New York City adventure, fill out an application for Alternative Break Spring 2012! The link is provided here:


Aliya Prasla


And congratulations to Essete who won our awesome giveaway last week! :) Stop by the center (Hughes-Trigg 200) to pick up your prize!

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Go ‘Stangs!

The Iron Skillet is back home!

Community Engagement & Leadership Center and the Hegi Family Center for Career Development are super proud of the SMU Mustang football for their 40-33 victory over TCU!

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The Community Engagement & Leadership Center wants to give YOU free stuff. Here’s how to receive something excellent from us:

Leave one comment on this blog entry for each of the above you’ve completed and you’ll get one chance for each.

*Must be an SMU student, staff, or faculty member to qualify. Winner will be selected at random and on Friday, October 7th. Check back on Friday to see if you’re the winner! Good luck!

prize peek - win this & MORE!

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AB-MH Retreat Weekend

AB Love

Author: {the awesome} Michelle Craig

After a two hour ride in the SMU van, eating a 24 ounce bucket of Cheez-Its, and exploration of the Lake Texoma shoreline, the Alternative breaks executive board sat down on a Saturday afternoon to formulate a five-year plan for the organization.

We travelled to a lake house two hours north of Dallas. Although our weekend was not spent physically at SMU, our concentration and continual focus was on one question…

How can we create active citizenship on our campus?

So, we have to expand our thinking to big picture. We ask questions. How can we improve our trip education? What are some ways we can make annual fundraising events? How can we expand our program? We consider different aspects of the organization: participants, trip costs, public relations, site coordination, alumni relations, and implementing an advisory board. But most importantly, we remember the goals we join with many other organizations to work towards.

To end world hunger. To provide affordable housing for all.  To stop the spread of AIDS. To promote fairness, justice and freedom. The list is endless. And these goals are far-reaching. But if we don’t aim big, what are we aiming for? We must never place limitations on possibilities. We work towards achievable goals and hold fast to our hopes for the future. In this year alone, Alternative Breaks participants at SMU will have worked a total of 4,500 service hours, and nationally, that number is 1.9 million service hours. This is why we create a five-year plan.

10 students. 1 advisor. Brainstorming possibilities in a bright, open room. We realize that Alternative Breaks reaches far beyond our four years at SMU.

As I sit in this teal chair with a floral print cushion, I look around and consider… in just a few short years, new faces will fill these seats. A complete turnover in an executive board can and will happen every two to three years. We realize that our five-year plan is not set in stone. Everything is subject to change. But we have a plan. We have a tangible hope in
the future of Alternative Breaks at SMU. We have a tangible hope for our world. We don’t want to be just another college group. We want to create citizens who care about social change far beyond their years at SMU.

Follow SMU AB {@SMU_Alt_Breaks} on twitter

Check us out at

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The SMU Service House

Author: Ryan Writt

The SMU Service House (SMUSH) is described as “community that was founded on August 26, 1996 of 28 students, typically second-year to graduate students, dedicated to service and social change. The purpose of SMUSH is to develop and nurture a community focused on cooperative responsibility, experiential education, and social action in order to promote self-awareness and community understanding. The residents of the Service House, fondly known as “SMUSHIES”, participate 30 hours of group and individual service hours each semester. Residence Life & Student Housing and the Community Engagement & Leadership Center jointly sponsor the Service House and its programs.”

But SMUSH is so much more than any words that could be put on paper. SMUSH is a family. We have weekly house dinners, BBQs, game nights, and lately have been addicted to the Wii. Each member of the Service House comes from a different background and a different walk of life, but we are all there to fulfill a common goal, service. All of our house members have a love and a trust for one another that goes above and beyond. We are a house, but more importantly we are a home.

For more information:

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Alternative Break 2011: Working in L.A.

Hello! I am Aliya Prasla, and I was the Co-Site leader for the Alternative Spring Breaks trip to Los Angeles.

We worked with the AIDS Project Of Los Angeles (APLA) and I learned so much about AIDS and the community! It was such a fantastic experience working for APLA.

A man spoke to us about his life with AIDS and how he has dealt with his sickness. It was really amazing because he was in the original cast for the Chorus Line and most of his counterparts had already died from AIDS. He was one of the few to survive. He is now in his 60s, but looks like he is in his younger 30s! He had an extremely vibrant personality and his story was incredibly inspiring.

Although we did not get to do actual community outreach at APLA, it was still rewarding to think about how much we had helped the agency with all the paperwork that needed to be filed. During the week, we finished all the filing that would have taken the staff at APLA months to complete! I would really love to go back to LA and volunteer at APLA again!

-Aliya Prasla
Class of 2013
Psychology Major

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Alternative Breaks 2011: Notes from Ecuador

I went on an alternative break to Ecuador this past spring break and had an amazing experience.

Ecuador is not a country covered much in the news (well, why on planet earth would journalists cover it when there are the ultra important Charlie Sheen matters to keep updated on), but it is a nation that deserves as much attention for its cultural beauty and spirit, as it does for its need for better schools and economic system.

During our trip the group worked with children from outdoor markets. These kids are often robbed of a real childhood because they are recruited to work the markets from exceedingly young ages, sometimes even as young as four. For at least two hours a day we tried to give them back a small piece of their childhood, attempting to give them the undivided attention they desperately crave, but rarely receive.

We practiced their math skills, and even tried to teach them some basic English, but I think the true purpose was to show them that there are people in this world that care about them, and want them to do well.

When I was younger, I was the ultimate idealist. I thought I could save the world and that there could be easy fixes to issues well beyond my understanding. The older I get, the more I understand how complicated the world really is. Don’t get me wrong, I am still an idealist; I still believe that people are inherently good, that we care about each another, and I even believe that I can change the world, but unlike before, I now understand the journey will not be as easy as I had originally imagined it.

As I look back on my experience with the market children: their filthy clothes, their worn-down shoes and sunburned cheeks, the mammoth hugs that make you feel like you are suffocating in love, my four-year-old self cannot help but feel hopeful about all their futures. Then, the devastating reality that many of them will not break the cycle of poverty hits me, and I wonder if I am making a difference at all.

I constantly struggled with this question during my stay. I finally came to the conclusion that while most of these kids probably will not be doctors, many will hopefully gain a better appreciation for the possibilities that the world has to offer. The cycle may not break with them, but if they instill those values into their own children, slowly but surely a new generation of leaders will emerge.

-Essete Workneh
Journalism Major
Class of 2013

Posted in Alternative Breaks, Alternative Breaks 2011, Service | 8 Comments

Alternative Break 2011: “I think I’ll go to Boston.”

My alternative spring break trip to Boston, MA was incredibly valuable to me as an individual and as a leader in a service organization. Being completely immersed in service and surrounded by others who had similar goals as I did was much more impacting than simply going to a service project once a week.

Working with homelessness for the week in this intense way showed me how incredibly lucky I am to not only attend college but a prestigious private school that fosters excellence and supports my endeavors at that. And I know that I am here because of the support of my family and the financial backing that my father worked hard to secure.

Realizing how lucky I am to have this kind of life has instilled me a sense of purpose. I will not waste the opportunity I have been given. And part of that means giving back and helping make other’s lives better.

I think it is important for college students to have life changing experiences like I did while on my AB trip; students need to know how lucky they are. My hope is that more and more students at SMU will come to a similar realization as I have because of AB trips or volunteering in other ways.

Carissa Grisham
Class of 2014
Marketing Major

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An essential element of leadership – YOU!

How do you take care of yourself? I often ask students this question, and as we get ready to enter the hectic whirlwind of the end of another semester. I find this question coming up more often. During a recent conversation with a student running for an important campus position, I was concerned that although she was smiling and upbeat, she also looked more tired than normal. I asked how she was doing, and how she was taking care of herself during this hectic time. She shared that with all of the expectations of current leadership responsibilities, her classes and family, she did not have much time for herself. I asked her to promise that in the coming weekend she would take at least an hour or two to do something for HER (even if it was just watching an irreverent movie or reading a magazine). It was a pleasant surprise when she shared the next week that she had done just that!

As student leaders, you’re faced with so many responsibilities: family, class, work, leadership positions, other campus activities, church or spiritual aims, volunteering – the list could truly be endless. With only 168 hours in a week, and a need to get some sleep – how do you ensure that you’re taking care of the one who keeps things going (YOU)? When I started my career, I was a true workaholic, and after moving to Texas I started to think about this idea of balance. My balance comes from volunteer work that matters to me and finding one (some would call silly) hobby that forces me to get away from responsibility (I play pool on a couple of teams). I’m not very good, but a couple of times a week I get to spend time with great people, get away from responsibility (other than trying to win my match) and most importantly – I GET TO LAUGH!

There is a great model called a Wheel of Life that might be helpful. Tiffany Lehman, M.S. (, explains “Visual maps such as the Life Balance Wheel are excellent tools used to begin the process of reaching goals and transforming your life.
Take a few minutes and assess your life. Rank each life area by drawing an arc at the number that represents your level of satisfaction. The center of the wheel is 0 and equals zero satisfaction, the outer edge of the wheel is 10 representing total satisfaction.” Take a minute to think about where you fit in this, and what you can do to create better balance. Who will help you in your quest and how will you know that you’re successful? It takes 21 days to establish a habit – so just don’t give up! Remember: if you’re not taking care of yourself as a leader, you’re perhaps not being the best leader that you can be!

Dr. Carol Clyde
Director, Leadership and Community Involvement

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