“You’ve got to go there to know there.” ~ Zora Neale Hurston
In 2008, the University of Kentucky Alternative Service Breaks program was developed as a part of the national movement to involve college students in community-based service projects and to give students opportunities to learn about the complex issues faced by members of diverse communities. As former President George W. Bush said at that time, “From now on in America, any definition of a successful life must include serving others.”
The creation of “alternative breaks” was one response to increasing calls from world leaders encouraging young people to get involved and take action in their communities. They were intended to immerse students in new communities throughout the U.S. and abroad, as well as people whose experiences may be different from their own. According to Break Away, the national alternative breaks clearinghouse, “Being completely immersed into diverse environments enables participants to experience, discuss, and understand social issues in a significant way. The intensity of the experience increases the likelihood that participants will transfer the lessons learned on-site back to their own communities even after the alternative break ends.
Break Away seeks to use alternative breaks as a springboard into lifelong active citizenship, where the community becomes a priority in an individual’s life decisions. Likewise, the UK ASB program aims to engage students in strong direct service to the community, through which students reflect upon complex social issues, and develop the knowledge and skills to take further action. According to Break Away, an estimated 36,000 students across the U.S. participated in an alternative break experience during spring break in 2008.
During the past few years, UK ASB has continued to grow, expanding from 3 service immersions offered during the program’s first year to offering 15 service immersions, spanning UK’s Weekends, Winter, Spring, and Summer Breaks in 2015-2016. In 2009, the program broadened its scope to include weekend service trips aimed at serving communities throughout the Commonwealth of Kentucky by working with the Center for Courageous Kids in Scottsville, KY. In 2011, UK ASB announced the addition of its first Spring Break service immersion abroad to the rural community of Jaibon in the Dominican Republic. In 2012, the program added a second international Spring Break service immersion in Santo Domingo, Ecuador, in partnership with UK’s Shoulder To Shoulder Global program. UK ASB ventured beyond Spring Break in 2013, offering its first Winter Break service immersion in Jinotega, Nicaragua, working with the same same community partner – Outreach360 – as it does in the Dominican Republic. For 2014, UK ASB added its first-ever Summer Break service immersion with a two week trip to Accra, Ghana, working with UBELONG and focused on Global Youth Education.
As the UK ASB program continues to grow, it succeeds at engaging more UK students in the national alternative breaks movement, and at engaging more communities across the U.S. and around the world!