Alternative Breaks Create Opportunities for Learning and Service Work throughout the Southeast

Raven Hudson-

While most students were gearing up to board planes, enjoy home-cooked meals, or binge-watch television shows over fall break, twenty students prepared to spend their extended weekend doing service work in three different communities across the Southeast.

Keeping with the tradition of Davidson College’s commitment to service, alternative breaks —which are conducted during both fall and spring semesters—offer all students the opportunity to engage in service programs that deal with a variety of social issues, such as hunger, homelessness, environmental conservation, public health, and civil rights. For this past fall break, students had the opportunities to work with Campus Pride Charlotte, Beans and Rice Inc., and the Atlanta Harm Reduction Coalition.

“If you’re not going home, why not do this?” For Bonner Scholar Laya Byrn Zhan ’19, going on an alternative break and volunteering with Campus Pride Charlotte was not only a way to contribute to the improvement of a community but also a way to expand her knowledge of a community to which she herself belongs.

“I figured I was going to be doing some work anyway, so why not do some work in a community that I’m part of? And the work that they do really matters to me.”

Campus Pride Charlotte is well-known for its project Campus Pride Index, the purpose of which, according to the official website, is “to set forth a national standard for improving the quality of life for LGBTQ… and to assist campuses in becoming more LGBTQ-friendly,” as based on eight LGBT-friendly factors, including policy inclusion, student life, and counseling.

The four students who worked with Campus Pride Charlotte spent part of their time updating the organization’s list and ranking of historically black colleges and universities. In addition, they copied memoirs of various LGBTQ activists, tabled at a drag dining club at night, and attended a workshop about being queer in the South led by Roberta Dunn, Head of the Carolina Transgender Society. 

Although not all students had such a close affiliation with their trip’s organization, alternative break veterans like Anna Ramgren ’19 still advocate that even if there’s not a trip that one initially responds to “it’s still worth doing one because you’ll meet people at these sites… who are very passionate about it, and it will make you more motivated to engage in service.”

Like many of the participants, trip leaders Ramgren and Natalie Kucher ’19 had been on alternative breaks before. This time around, they, along with six other students, drove from Davidson to Pulaski County, Virginia to work with Beans and Rice, Inc.

A community-based organization, Beans and Rice works to improve economic well-being through hunger relief, after-school programs, job creation, and savings programs. The Davidson students, however, primarily worked in the programs that dealt with food security by working in a greenhouse, running food drives outside of local Walmarts, and distributing food to community members.

Meanwhile, for Timmy Douglas ’21, his time with the Atlanta Harm Reduction Coalition (AHRC) was a “humbling experience” that “made [him] face the hard truth.”

The organization, based in Atlanta, Georgia, pledges its commitment to “reducing the impact of HIV/AIDS… and Substance Use within vulnerable communities,” according to its official website. Douglas, along with seven other Davidson students, served by working in a local community garden, distributing food, participating in a needle exchange program that provides injecting drug users with hypodermic needles, and assembling condom kits, drug kits, and NARCAN kits, which are used to treat opioid overdoses. The general underlying philosophy behind the NARCAN kit distribution is the anticipation that people will use drugs whether assisted or not, so it’s AHRC’s mission to help them to do so in a safe way.

Since the goal of alternative breaks is to get as many Davidson students as possible involved in service, the application process for trip participants includes minimal requirements, costs (a $25 fee), and tries to accommodate students’ trip preferences.

For trip leaders, the main additional requirement is they must have gone on a prior alternative break. While trips are low-cost for students, they are also not a vacation by any means.

Emma Tayloe ’19, AHRC trip leader, attests, “Your accommodations aren’t going to be great… [but] if you’re up for it, I think it will be a very valuable experience.”

In a sentiment echoed by many others who went on this semester’s alternative breaks, Douglas reflected that the trips “provide an opportunity to view lifestyles and do things that you wouldn’t do in your everyday life at Davidson, or just your everyday life in general… and the opportunity to work with people in the real world, who maybe aren’t as fortunate as you, or don’t have the opportunities you have… It makes you have an open mind and broaden your horizon, which is something we should all strive to do.”