In college, people always talk about the crazy spring break trips they take and how their trip to Cancun was one of the best experiences of their life. Students who constantly complain about how much they are in debt from college and are living the "broke college student" life dump out hundreds, even thousands of dollars, for one week of fun that they did all year anyway. That was why, as a freshman last year, I decided to try and channel my energy into something more positive and passionate.
At The University of Tennessee, The Center for Leadership and Service offers a program called the Alternative Break Program. The Alternative Break Program is an opportunity for all students to spend any break (fall, winter, spring, and summer) with other people to increase awareness of different social issues through meaningful community service. Each trip is led by two leaders and focuses on one certain topic. Topics in the past have included Food Insecurity, Refugee Rights, Wealth Inequality, Youth Development, and LGBTQ+ Advocacy.
For spring break in 2018, I signed up for the honors alternative break trip focusing on Food Insecurity. What makes the alternative break program so unique is that when signing up, you have no idea where you are going. They leave out the destination in order to keep from student's decisions being based on the place and being more focused on what the social issue is.
For my trip, we went to Jackson, Mississippi. Nobody knew really what we were going into but through the trip, we learned so much about Jackson. You would think that because Jackson is the capital of Mississippi, Mississippi is the most food-insecure state in the country with a lot of being concentrated in the capital. Being there and interacting with citizens really opened my mind to another perspective.
Food insecurity is not just caused by lack of money, but age, lack of transportation, and many others. Many people in Jackson are defined as food insecure because they were not able to have a reliable access to nutritious food. For example, in one county in Jackson, the only place even remotely close was a dollar general. In other places, just gas stations. Each day, however, my group went to different organizations that were focused on helping people who were in need and were considered food insecure.
Throughout the week, we volunteered at urban farms, food banks, and community service agencies. At each place, we were able to listen to people's stories and how living a food desert affected their life and it was very enlightening. Not only was the experience being hands-on and serving the community very inspirational, I was able to meet lifelong friends who are passionate about serving just like me.
Because of my experience with this trip, I will be leading my own alternative spring break trip in 2019 with a focus on Wealth Distribution. I encourage every student to look into alternative break trips and find a focus they are passionate about or curious and spend their break doing something very moving and positive.