Spreading the Love
John Belgeri, a senior health sciences major, helps two girls practice their Spanish and English reading skills at the Outreach 360 Salomón Jorge Learning Center in the Dominican Republic. Mizzou Alternative Breaks partners with Outreach 360, a nonprofit with a focus on literacy, to help run its international trips.
This winter break, 144 Mizzou students loaded into 20 rental vans, each with a tiger tail hanging from the back bumper, and headed for cities in Virginia, Louisiana, Texas, Florida, Alabama, South Carolina and Oklahoma.
The students weren’t driving home for the holidays (yet); they were en route to a week of service as part of the Mizzou Alternative Breaks program.
The program, which began as a student organization in 1991, sends students to communities across the country (and sometimes out of the country) to perform volunteer service. That might look like cleaning brush from the grounds of a big-cat rescue sanctuary, spending time at a children’s shelter or maybe laying subfloor in a Habitat for Humanity house.
Students apply for trips based on the service they want to do, and the locations of the trips are a secret until the applicants have been accepted. Each trip typically has 10 participants and two site leaders, who go through almost a year of training to plan their trips and learn how to find community partners, make a budget, raise funds, keep participants safe and solve problems on the fly.
“We take two Mizzou students and say, ‘Here are 10 other Mizzou students,’” says Bryan Goers, coordinator of leadership and service for the Department of Student Life. “‘You have a budget of whatever you decide to make it. You’re going to go find a site, find an issue, make contacts in that region, and we’ll give you two vans.’ And it’s like … go.”