In 1988, students participating in SMU’s first alternative spring break trips traveled to a Brownsville, Texas, refugee camp and a New Orleans soup kitchen. The program was designed to enable students to use their time off for community service.
This year, SMU Alternative Breaks celebrated its 25th anniversary and its 100th trip, which the student organization marked by returning to Brownsville. Alternative Breaks now offers 14 trips during fall, winter, spring and summer and has more than 150 student, faculty and staff participants annually.
“Every trip makes a difference not only in the communities we visit, but also in the lives of the people who take part,” says senior Matthew Gayer, the organization’s director since 2010. “The trips take us out of our comfort zones to really focus on social issues such as hunger and health.”
Alternative Breaks is housed in SMU’s Community Engagement and Leadership Center. Carol Clyde, the center’s director, says students increasingly are interested in community service. “Forty-two percent of incoming students say they’re likely to participate, up
from 31 percent only eight years ago.”
During spring break in March, students traveled to Atlanta, to work with veterans and the homeless; Boston, to volunteer with a homeless services bureau; Crawfordville, Florida, to perform environmental restoration; Denver, to serve with Habitat for Humanity; Los Angeles, to volunteer with its AIDS Project; New York, to serve at a food bank; Taos, New Mexico, to tutor children at a rural charter school; Window Rock, Arizona, to work on education issues with Native Americans; and Quito, Ecuador, to teach children and support community development.
Jillian Frederick, a sophomore anthropology major in Dedman College, participated in the Brownsville trip during winter break. She and seven other SMU students worked at the Good Neighbor Settlement House, where they planned several Christmas parties for families in need.
“It was amazing to think that 25 years ago, SMU students had traveled to Brownsville with the same goals and excitement to serve,” Frederick says.