In the 2016-2017 school year, Kansas State University students had the opportunity to visit Denver, Colorado; Kansas City, Missouri; and Tahlequah, Oklahoma; to understand the various aspects of specific social issues through the Alternative Breaks program at the Staley School of Leadership Studies.
Alternative Breaks is an opportunity for students to participate in an intense service experience during their winter, spring, and weekend breaks. Participants travel to communities around the country where they work with local residents to address a pressing social issue. Breaks are open to K-State graduate, undergraduate, and international students.
Throughout the Midwest, teams of students performed a variety of tasks throughout their week-long trips ranging from cleaning, building, and working directly with the clients. Here’s an update from the Winter 2016 Alternative Break sites!
For a week in Denver, students explored socioeconomic impacts on the public education system. Teams sought to become more knowledgeable about the education system in low income populations and were able to participate in conversations with individuals from the private, public, and nonprofit sectors.
“I went to North High School, and we helped with some administrative activities, attended a few basketball games, observed in classrooms, and acted as a resource for students to ask questions about college,” said Lauren Mertz, junior in mass communications.
“The first day of our trip, I caught myself passing judgement,” said Mertz. “This forced me to question why I was passing this judgement and how I can fight what society teaches us about people, so I can make meaningful relationships with those around me.”
Kansas City, Missouri
While in Kansas City, students evaluated the root causes of homelessness and the various programs for relief. Teams were able to see how the relief programs were run and how the programs best supported the individuals impacted by homelessness. Throughout the week, students helped support Hope Faith Ministries by serving food for breakfast and lunch and sort through donations at their thrift store.
“This experience will help me in my future by having a better understanding of homelessness,” said Katie Huerter, junior in life sciences.
“I have more knowledge about what services are helping people and some of the causes to why people are homeless. Overall, it was a humbling experience giving me fire to assist others in need.”
Students gained empathy and understanding for the Native American population during a week in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. Teams had the opportunity to connect with citizens of the Cherokee Nation and hear an often untold history of some of the ways that they have been underrepresented, misunderstood, and discriminated against.
“We spent a couple of days painting a community building, raking leaves, and building a handicap-accessible ramp,” said Brynn Wright, senior in biology. “One of the days, we were able to learn about the Cherokee Nation and many of their traditions.”
“It was the people I met that had the most impact on me,” said Wright. “The people were so welcoming and thankful and went out of their way to help us, teach us, and make us comfortable. I could tell that friendship and family is very important in the Native American culture.”
Additional Quotes from Alternative Breaks students:
“I think overall, the experience challenged me to step out of my comfort zone and walk in the shoes of someone else. Until you take the time to form bonds with them, step into their world for a while, and listen to them, you don’t truly know them and how to make an impact.” –Brynn Wright
“I enjoyed forming relationships and getting to know each person at Hope Faith Ministries. Some of the guests had little to nothing and to share hope and positivity with each other was something I will not ever forget.” –Katie Huerter
“The part of the trip that had the most impact on me was looking at the public education systems in place and realizing the oppressive systems in place, as well as understanding my role in breaking those privilege barriers down.” –Lauren Mertz