Alternative Break students help create change in communities

This year, more than 70 students from IUPUI's Alternative Break Program traveled across the United States to explore the root causes of social issues and expand their mindsets about everyday challenges others experience.

During spring break, six groups traveled to five major cities to examine community access to health care, disability rights, immigration and social entrepreneurship, urban education and LGBTQ+ issues, food security and redevelopment, prison justice, and gentrification that could lead to health disparities.

Students assemble a picnic table for workersView print quality image
IUPUI students in Atlanta built picnic tables at Umarima, a farm partnered with Global Growers, to provide older workers there a place to sit at the job site. Photo courtesy of Mariana Lagunas, Indiana University

Two student groups went to New Orleans while the others explored Atlanta; Washington, D.C.; Charlotte, North Carolina; and Charleston, West Virginia. While learning about their individual topics, participants took part in service and educational activities that best suited the issues they were observing. Some students organized food pantries, while others facilitated programs and visited historical locations, local businesses and organizations that provide support services.

Alternative Breaks is a "by students, for students" IUPUI program -- where group leaders, or Alternative Break Scholars, build their designated trips from the ground up. These student leaders develop educational materials for fellow students at each location and lead post-service reflection times about the service performed each day. Reflection helps guide students through critical questions that challenge their previous perspectives of each issue while providing new viewpoints and building community among the participants.

Trip leader Kevin Sanders, whose group traveled to Washington, D.C., to examine health care for those with disabilities, said his trip worked to dismantle stigmas often associated with having a disability. He said they visited lobbyists and trade associations that have an interest in promoting disability policies, organizations that provide access to health care, and nonprofits that fund research and supportive services for people with disabilities, such as the Alzheimer's Association and the U.S. Access Board.

Students meet Sen. Todd YoungView print quality image
IUPUI students in Washington, D.C., met Indiana Sen. Todd Young at the Russell Senate Office Building to advocate for a bill to help people with disabilities. Photo courtesy of Kevin Sanders, Indiana University

Sanders explained that his participants learned about legislation up for debate in Congress and discovered obstacles individuals with disabilities must go through to receive health care.

Alternative Breaks Scholar Mariana Lagunas led a group to Atlanta that studied social entrepreneurship and immigration. Lagunas and her fellow students learned about fostering social entrepreneurship from Cox Enterprises, and Global Growers shared with them how the company helps immigrant and refugee communities with sustainable agriculture in Atlanta.

Lagunas' group performed hands-on services like assembling picnic tables, weeding crop beds and clearing out produce crates for members of the community.

"The whole point is to move students along this active citizen continuum," Lagunas said. "You have to live a lifestyle based on what you understand, and volunteering is only the first step. We're hoping to get students from just living to volunteering and becoming active citizens."