Over January Term, the NYU Alternative Breaks program sent 34 participants and seven staff members to cities in the United States and Costa Rica for community service and social justice trips. Each trip lasted one week and focused on aiding established community organizations.
These community service trips take place over winter or spring break. This winter, students in the Alternative Breaks program worked with the Center for Advancing Domestic Peace in Chicago, A.G. Rhodes in Atlanta and Maximo Niva in Costa Rica.
Participants underwent a thorough application process. The Alternative Breaks application process is blind in the sense that participants can give a preference for what issues they would like to focus on, but not for where they would like to go.
“The trips are really meant to not be about tourism, but more about the issue you’re set on solving,” Center for Student Life Program Administrator Chrissy Beluk said.
As part of the program, Steinhardt freshman Vyanne Dinh worked with the Center for Advancing Domestic Peace in Chicago, a non-profit that helps perpetrators of domestic violence change their abusive attitudes.
“Since we’re not trained, we helped with office stuff like scanning and filing, photocopying and the last two days we painted the office,” Dinh said. “As the week went on, I realized that we do this work so that the people that are more qualified or more trained could have time to do things that actually matter or help. I think that was really rewarding.”
Dinh said that a lot of thought and preparation goes into the service before, during and after it happens.
“I think it’s so much more than community service,” Dinh said. “It’s about learning about yourself and the community. You learn that your service can be both helpful and harmful … We always have to ask if we’re doing the right thing.”
Tandon senior Daniel Jiang is a site leader this year and helped organize the trip to Atlanta, where his group worked with A.G. Rhodes, a group of nursing homes.
“We helped the nurses escort some of the patients to physical therapy, music therapy and horticultural therapy sessions and talked to the patients about their own experiences and ours as students,” Jiang said.
Jiang’s said his Alternative Breaks experience was eye opening. His image of nursing homes completely changed after working with A.G. Rhodes.
“My stereotypes of nursing homes were basically shattered,” Jiang said. “I had an image of nursing homes being a money bag for wealthy businessmen who couldn’t provide the right care for these patients, but whenever we did service, we could see how the patients were still very lively and how much love the nurses had for them.”The Alternative Breaks program also consists of year-long fundraising, training and social justice education. Each group meets weekly to prepare for their trip and discuss their relevant issues. Even though these groups have already completed their trip, they will continue to meet each week and work on their chosen issues.
“[Alternative Breaks] doesn’t end with the conclusion of the trip,” Jiang said. “We work year-round to provide service opportunities and educational events like talks to our participants so that we may carry our service back to New York.”
Alternative Breaks plans to send even more students to various community organizations around the world over spring break.
Email Amelia McBain at [email protected]