Iowa State programs offer alternative spring break opportunities for students

AMES, Iowa - With spring break on the horizon March 15-21, many Iowa State University students look forward to a relaxing week without classes, but a number of them will spend their time volunteering in an alternative break.

Funded by the Student Activities Center, the formal Iowa State Alternative Breaks program promotes active citizenship and community involvement. This year, the program is sponsoring three trips -- one at Hopewell, a nonprofit therapeutic community for adults with mental illness in Ohio; one at the Southern Appalachian Labor School in West Virginia; and one through Habitat for Humanity in Texas.

"The Alternative Break program gives students the opportunity to see other communities outside of Iowa and to explore social issues in depth," said Jennifer Garrett, leadership and service coordinator for the Student Activities Center. "The students are able to learn by participating in an intense experience that allows them to deepen their understanding of what they have learned in the classroom and what difference they can make in the world."

A graduate advisor will work with a team of eight to 10 students going to each area. Volunteers come from a variety of majors and backgrounds, but all share a common desire to give back to a community.

Candidates were selected based on their commitment to volunteerism and service in a competitive online application and interview process. The program works to make the trip affordable, and the cost of the trip will not exceed $200 per student.

Iowa State volunteers will work with adults with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, major depression and other forms of serious illness at the Hopewell facility, which is located on a 300-acre farm in Mesopotamia, Ohio.

"Our primary hope is that, by exposing ISU students to these conditions first-hand, participants will bring a new perspective -- one cognizant of the need to assist disadvantaged peoples -- back to the Iowa State community," said Jeritt Tucker, a senior psychology major from Nevada, Iowa, who is a student site leader for Alternative Breaks. "Our particular goals, as advisors of this trip, are to help break down the social stigma surrounding those with mental health concerns, and to increase awareness of alternative forms of treatment."

Volunteers will participate in different activities to create a healing environment for residents. Activities include tapping trees for sap, working in the garden, maintaining the facility and assisting in equine therapy (therapeutic horseback riding).

Southern Appalachian Labor School
The Southern Appalachian Labor School provides educational opportunities and assistance to low-income families in regions of West Virginia that are among the poorest in the nation. The ISU team will work with the organization to improve living conditions by making repairs to substandard housing.

"The work that we will be doing ranges from rehabs to weatherization, roofing, windows, doors, insulation, etc.," said Laura Walczak, graduate student advisor for Alternative Breaks from Loda, Ill. "The purpose is to establish community development among poverty regions and improve living conditions in their houses."

Habitat for Humanity
The Collegiate Challenge is an event sponsored by Habitat for Humanity, offering students the opportunity to better a community by volunteering at one of the organization's 250 host affiliates. Volunteers will work with Habitat for Humanity to build a house for a family in need in Wichita Falls, Texas.

"It is really exciting because the students who are coming on the trip have had little or no prior experience in construction. However, they all want to give back," said Lauren Berry, graduate student advisor for Alternative Breaks from Eatontown, N.J. "At the site, we will learn about different tools and how to complete the tasks that will be given to us. It is really fun because we will get to experience this as a group."

Additional student organization also seeks help
In the fall of 2006, a group of psychology graduate students at ISU created a student organization to provide relief for victims affected by large-scale disasters. Students Supporting Health and Relief Efforts (SHARE) organized two alternative break trips to the Gulf Coast area in 2007 and 2008 to help Hurricane Katrina victims.

In the wake of the devastating earthquakes in Haiti, SHARE organizers are trying to organize a relief effort to that region. But founding members also require assistance to keep the organization running. Students interested in either joining share SHARE or participating in a possible relief trip to Haiti are urged to contact the organization's president, Ashley Hackler, at or (515) 294-9668.

More information on the Iowa State Alternative Breaks program is at Information on SHARE is at