Humans of Alternative Breaks

– Humans of Alternative Breaks –

Welcome to the Humans of Alternative Breaks project!

Inspired by Humans of New York and Humans of Grand Valley, we started this project in the winter of 2016 to provide a platform for Alternative Breaks participants to share their stories.

Alternative Breaks offers a unique and transformative opportunity to experience and serve communities throughout the country. The stories of these experiences are powerful, and they should be shared, learned from, and celebrated.

During your Alternative Breaks experience, what did you learn? Who did you meet? Did your perspective change? Do you have any advice to offer new participants? All is fair game with Humans of Alternative Breaks!

All Alternative Breaks participants, past or present, are welcome to contribute to the project at any time. We would love to hear your story! If you would like to share a photo and a story, please send them to


2016-2017 Contributions


Alternative Breaks, More Than Just a Trip

“With the suggestion and encouragement of my roommate, I signed up for an Alternative Spring Breaks trip my senior year. Little did I know, it would change my life immensely.

During the start of my last semester, I found out I had the opportunity to go on the Park Preservation trip at Hungry Mother State Park in Marion, Virginia. I was excited, nervous, and especially curious as to why they would name a state park “Hungry Mother.” I remember the send-off meeting in particular. A guest speaker came and discussed how his ASB trips and experiences had changed his life for the greater good. I remember thinking how awesome it was that a student organization at Grand Valley had such an impact on his life.

My trip started at 5 am in the typical Michigan spring break weather – snow. It was a ten hour journey down to Virginia in a van with eleven strangers. Those next five days at Hungry Mother were amazing. We cleaned cabins and campsites, did trail work, and installed fish habitat in the lake.

But it was the little things that made this trip so special. Having the opportunity to talk with the park employees and friends group was a sweet reminder as to why we were there. They love their jobs and they all have a special connection to the park whether it was the place they spent their childhood summer vacations or relatives that helped build the park. The different projects we worked on seemed so minuscule but it was so much more than that.

I was very fortunate to be able to return to Hungry Mother after I graduated from Grand Valley. What started as a seasonal position has turned into not only a permanent job but a passion. My job’s main focus is on environmental education. My goal is to connect our park visitors to nature and to help them gain a greater appreciation for the environment. No two days are ever the same. I have met so many amazing people in Southwest Virginia, the place I now call home. Whenever I am asked how I ended up down here (the Northern accent sticks out in Southwest Virginia), I tell them about Alternative Breaks, this amazing organization that is more than just a trip.

It’s been almost three years since that amazing experience and I think about it often. I think about those 11 strangers that turned it to great friends. I think about the laughs and memories that were created that week. I think about how those projects we worked on during our trip have benefited the park – and it truly has. Grand Valley has been coming to Hungry Mother for an ASB trip for the past 16+ years and I always look forward to the new group that comes each spring, because they are a part of the legacy here at the park.

I signed up for an Alternative Breaks trip to give back to the community but somehow in the midst of it all, I managed to receive far more than I could have ever imagined. And that’s what I love about these trips, they change us, inspire us, motivate us, and remind us that we all have the ability to change the world.”


“This past week I did something I never thought I would ever do. I got into a 15-passenger van with 7 other GV students who were basically strangers to me. We drove for 6 hours and reached our destination of Georgetown, Ohio. From there, we stayed at a beautiful church right down the road from Ohio’s veterans nursing home. With such amazing site leaders, we began to open up to each other. Throughout the week, each one of us experienced moments that were unforgettable as we learned more about the veterans and each other.

I can’t put into words how happy I am to have met each one of these individuals and the veterans. When the last day of service came, the emotions that poured out were much more than I had anticipated. Who knew that playing one game of checkers could be such a meaningful experience? Or that a simple smile from across a room had the ability to make someone’s day?Overall, I not only got to visit and build heart-warming relationships with the veterans, but become friends with everyone on the trip.

On that note, I would like to encourage the people who read this to push themselves out of their comfort zone. I’ve heard this my whole life, but my anxiety has always stood in the way. Participating in endeavors that seem impossible or scary are immensely important in figuring out who you are. Holding on to such fears will never allow you to experience life.

Lastly, I want to spread the word about this amazing organization, Alternative Breaks, that allowed me to take this incredible journey! If you are thinking of volunteering, this club is a great way to start to exploring life-changing service opportunities.”



“When people think about urban gardening the image that typically comes to mind is a small plot of vacant land on a corner lot somewhere in a city neighborhood. Well, you aren’t really wrong, but there is so much more that is involved in that tiny plot of earth. When I went on the Urban Gardening trip, I was not sure what to expect. I have worked with farming and urban agriculture, but was completely mystified as to what this trip was going to offer. This all changed when I first stepped onto the Lake County Youth Farm in the northern Chicago, because I immediately felt at home. There were raised beds, vegetables sprouting, and most importantly, honeybees in the back corner. That entire week I was in heaven working with Windy City Harvest. Even with my prior farm knowledge I was able to learn so much about urban agriculture, food justice, food production, and the importance of getting students involved in their community. Leaving Chicago was sad, but I knew that I wanted to go back to work for the botanic gardens. I talked with Eliza, our site contact, about potentially volunteering again at Windy City Harvest and instead of volunteering, I just recently accepted a full time internship position with Windy City this summer! I will be working at the North Lawndale Youth Farm and living out a dream. I am so grateful to have been given the chance to visit their program with AB and to have met such amazing people. I can’t wait to work with vegetables and teach the community members and students about how to grow their own food. Oh yeah, and do a ton of beekeeping as well! Becoming a member of Alternative Breaks has changed me as a person, and I hope to continue growing with the organization as I move on with the rest of my education at Grand Valley.”


“This is Charlie. He has lived in Atlanta his entire life. He had four daughters, then adopted three sons to help balance out the girl power. He is a hardworking man who grew up on a farm. He is blind.

Although he can no longer see the things you and I take for granted, he has a vision for the world and the people in it. He shared many tidbits of life advice with me, without even realizing he was doing so. He told me ‘When ya go to Chick-fil-A, ya gotta ask them for the rooster. Mess with them a lil’ bit. It’ll make ya happy, because ya wanna know something? The saddest people in life are the ones who don’t speak up.’

And I couldn’t agree more.”


“I had a few past volunteer experiences, but AB always looked to be something more than what I had done with other organizations. It seemed to be more than just volunteering to complete a task, and I was determined to do a trip to understand why it was so much more. After doing my first AB trip, I grew so much through true service learning and found a much deeper passion for volunteering. Getting the full week experience and full immersion into the issue left a lasting impact that will stick with me for a lifetime.”


“I joined AB to combine my loves of volunteering, traveling, and meeting new people. To be honest, the only reason I went on my second trip was to avoid going home. I was going through I really hard time in my life and would have gone anywhere but home. However, that second trip helped me figure out who I was going to be as a site leader and how I was going to approach the coming school year. I site led a spring break trip this year with the issue of Affordable Housing. Those seven days changed my life. We went hiking, exploring, and spent our evenings playing some intense games of kickball. We bonded as we took nails out of wood and cleaned debris out of abandoned houses. I never imagined 10 people being as close as we are. My favorite memory of the trip was when we went to the park and went star watching towards the end of the week. We all started talking about first impressions of each other and the awkwardness at the beginning of the trip. A few minutes later, some of us were crying from laughing so hard and the rest couldn’t stop laughing. All 10 of us still hang out and we joined an intramural kickball team together. Our first game is March 31st! I am so grateful for everyone I have met through Alternative Breaks; you guys mean so much more to me than you know.”


“When I found AB, it was a whole new world of volunteering. I love feeling as if I’m making an impact on the community. Or making someone’s day by spending time with them. Since my freshman year I’ve been trying to find an organization that showed my passion—my passion for volunteering—and when I found Alternative Breaks, I knew that I was in an environment where I would better myself. The best decision I ever made was going on a AB trip.”


“The best piece of advice I can think of for new participants is to be open-minded. An Alternative Breaks trip is a week in which you will have new experiences, attain new skills, work for new causes, learn many new lessons about yourself and others, and of course, make new friends! Go into your trip with an open mind for what is to come and you will enjoy every second of it.

I am about to embark on my third and fourth AB adventures this year and I can honestly say that this organization has provided me with some of my most cherished GV memories.”


“Alternative Breaks has taught me so much about life. The simple explanation for what I have learned could be measured by my understanding of different environmental and social issues that touch our nation. Digging a little deeper, AB has also taught me how to ask questions and better understand a non-profit’s mission. What struggles do they face when trying to incorporate the public into their work? How did the organization get its start; was it a personal experience, education on the issue, or just simply an idea that someone had decided to pursue further? Don’t question why a person does what they do; ask them instead why they don’t stop. Learn about their passions. Lastly AB has taught me to embrace the lifestyle that is volunteerism. It has taught me to understand good vs. bad volunteering, educated vs. ignorant passion, working with vs. working for, and how to have humility in not only what we do but in who we are compared with who others are. Simply put, Alternative Breaks has taught me to always strive to be better, to learn more, and to never stop expanding my passions.”


“During my first trip, I worked in an after school program in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Although the neighborhood had crime and drug problems, within the after school center you could ignore all of that. The kids were extremely sweet and friendly. As the shy freshman that I was, I became close to a shy fourth grader named Abby. Abby barely said a word, until she began talking about One Direction. Then, her face would light up and she would talk for hours. I also worked with Abby’s sister, Hannah who was in fifth grade. Hannah had been randomly picked from a lottery to attend a charter school in the area, while Abby stayed at the nearby public school. During the week I began to notice a few differences between Abby and Hannah. Abby was extremely shy and did not seem to have friends at the program, while Hannah was the most popular one there. Abby’s schoolwork seemed a year below her grade level while Hannah’s was at least one higher. I didn’t think much of these differences until the last day, when I worked with Abby on Thursday. After discussing One Direction’s latest album, I asked her if she wanted to start on her homework for tomorrow. Abby told me she would rather do her homework later tonight because she didn’t need sleep on Thursday nights. When I asked why not, she explained that her teacher doesn’t plan anything for Fridays, so they sleep all day on Fridays. When I heard that, I was extremely sad. How could the teacher not want to engage this wonderful girl in projects that would help her future? Then I got mad. Someone needed to step up and help Abby. After looking around and realizing no one was jumping to do it, I realized that that person had to be me. That was the moment that I changed my major to elementary education to help a future Abby.”


“This was me on my first trip. It was my first year at Grand Valley. My parents had just sold our house. I was working 40 hours a week to help pay for my tuition plus taking 15 credits. By the end of my first semester I was exhausted. On top of that I was entering my winter semester undecided about everything. You could definitely say that I was depressed. Going on an AB trip gave me a new perspective that inspired my passion for service and community! Two years later I’m finishing up my junior year studying Public Administration. And I’m about to go on my 3rd spring break trip now as a site leader! I couldn’t be more excited!!

If you let it, Alternative Breaks can take you on some pretty amazing adventures with some pretty amazing people. You just have to take that first step and sign up!”


“On my first AB trip, I worked at an after school program in Philadelphia. That’s where I met Dan. He was in second grade, he was pretty good at solving subtraction problems, and he had some crazy basketball skills. I quickly realized he was also a classy gentleman because he asked me to help him make a necklace for his girlfriend with beads and pipe cleaners. He told me he enjoyed writing songs and singing, too. When I asked him who his favorite singer was, he replied, ‘My favorite singer is… me!’ Maybe I’ll hear him on the radio someday.”



“On our first day of service, my group was tasked with sorting food and clothing donations at Nashville Rescue Mission. We were working alongside a few gentlemen who were going through a program at the mission, and we quickly became friends. Around lunch time, one of the men began to share his story with us. He told us about his childhood struggles, his remarkable boxing career, and his experience with homelessness. He spoke with energy and enthusiasm and passion. He exuded joy, and displayed genuine kindness as he asked us about ourselves. Throughout the week, we worked closely with him, laughing, telling jokes, sharing stories, and getting to know each other. He shared with us his goals and aspirations, and also told us that he was writing a poetry book. We asked him to share some of his work, and he began reciting one of the poems on the spot. It was powerful and compelling and unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before. On our final day of service, he shared a new poem he had written that week. It was titled “My Friend” and dedicated to us.

We all learned so much from him, and I know that we will always be friends.”


“When I signed up for my first Alternative Breaks trip, I knew it was going to push me out of my comfort zone. Three years later, I never anticipated how much this organization would challenge me to grow and develop as a leader. I’ve found that I am able to take what I’ve learned in AB and effectively apply it in most any academic, leadership, or professional setting. My AB experiences have made me more thoughtful, adaptable, and well-rounded, and the impact AB has on different areas of my life is quite surprising. For example, last spring I applied to work on the marketing communications team of an insurance company. In my interview, I found myself discussing AB experiences to answer most of the questions—to my surprise, they were extremely applicable and relevant. I got the position, and I largely credit this to the AB experiences that have taught me so much. When you return home from an AB trip, you never know how it will continue to impact your life. It’s a transformative experience.”


“Alternative Breaks has taken me to many awesome places—Philadelphia, New York City, Nashville. But what’s most important to me are the people I’ve met, learned from, and befriended. On every trip, I get myself a souvenir and ask the group to sign it. It’s a fun little tradition! But beyond sentimental material possessions, I’ve made memories that I will cherish and hold closely for the rest of my life. I’ve been lucky enough to build friendships that have made me a better person, and these are things that can never be lost or taken away.”


“One morning on the Relief Efforts trip, we woke up to find a few feet of snow on the ground. Then our site contact called to let us know that our service was cancelled for that day. In any other context, news of a snow day would have been absolutely wonderful, but we were severely disappointed. We wanted to serve and learn as much as we could! We spent the first few hours of the days snacking, playing games, and trying to entertain ourselves. But we were growing restless. A few of us decided to venture outside and do some shoveling. We were staying at a church community center, so we shoveled its parking lot and sidewalks. The pastor of the church and his family lived a few doors down, so we also shoveled their sidewalks and driveway. Once we were finished, they invited us inside. They gave us hot chocolate and Girl Scout Cookies, and we spent hours chatting and enjoying the company. We eventually learned that the pastor had a master’s degree in music composition, and was skilled in playing many different instruments. He let us borrow a few ukuleles (and DVDs), so when we returned to the community center, we had a great evening of playing music and watching movies. It was incredible to see how a day that had started off as disappointing and dull became fun, memorable, and music-filled. Most things never go perfectly as planned, but that’s what makes a good adventure!”


“First signing up for an Alternative Breaks trip, you don’t think much of it. You mostly think, “Oh cool, I get to do some volunteering for a week,” and then you go through the first awkward phase of meeting the other people on the trip and developing first impressions. You think to yourself, “What have I gotten myself into?” But you don’t realize that by the end of the trip, you are one close-knit family of friends and wish it wouldn’t end. Signing up for my first trip Sophomore year felt exactly like this. The first few days after the trip, the post-AB high sucks and reading the warm and fuzzy notes from your group just sends you bursting into tears. It can’t get any better than this right? I then chose to become a site leader. Being a site leader is hard work but it’s extremely rewarding in the end. It’s great to get feedback from your participants that you’re doing a great job and learning that they can see how passionate and caring you are about volunteering. Being in a van with 8 other people isn’t so bad when you’ve got good music, but it also gives you a chance create a bond that is long lasting. I am proud of myself for taking a chance and becoming a part of this organization, and I can’t wait for more experiences and memories with AB.”


“This was on my first trip when I was a wee freshman. I went on the Native American Cultural Awareness trip and like most first trips, this was an extreme growing point for me. I thought I was just signing up for a week of volunteering, not this lifetime of passion for service and active citizenship. It was in the first few days of being on our site and working with the staff at Cherokee Nation that I realized how much I wanted to work in a nonprofit. In my journal, one of the things I talked about was how generous and caring everyone was at our site and how much they genuinely cared about their community. This made me realize how much I wanted to be that kind of person.

I learned so many valuable things on that trip. Although, there is one thing that will stick with me forever. We were working in this older couple’s home, Bob and Laverne, who were the sweetest people I had ever met. I was painting the ceiling of the living room with the roller things and I accidentally hit a lamp. Now when people say things shatter into a million pieces they are usually being dramatic, but this wasn’t the case in my situation. There were literally a million pieces all over the floor. I froze in fear and didn’t know what to do. Heather, my site leader, made me go tell Laverne, and all I could think about was how upset she was gonna be and probably hate me. Her response was anything but that. In fact, she was genuinely worried about me and if I was okay. She then told me it was just a material thing and she probably had another one sitting around the house. This shocked me; this couple had very little and it didn’t bother her at all. After this, things were really put into perspective for me. I realized how much emphasis we place on material things, when those aren’t the things that really matter.”


To contribute to the Humans of Alternative Breaks project, please email your photo and story to

This project can also be found on our Facebook and Instagram pages!