By Jennifer Jones, communications specialist, Lowell Bennion Community Service Center
What could you possibly do in three days that would be profoundly educational and profoundly impactful? That’s the question Taylor Checketts asked himself as he considered participating in the Bennion Center’s Alternative Weekend service experience.
Taylor, a physics and philosophy major, had initially planned on participating in the Alternative Break trip last fall. Alternative Breaks give students the opportunity to take an entire Spring or Fall break and immerse themselves in an issue. They travel to a designated city in the western United States or Canada to serve side-by-side with community partners dedicated to that cause. When a conflict cancelled Checketts’ plan for the full Fall break trip, he wondered whether a weekend experience along the Wasatch front would be worth the time. “It was hands-down one of the best experiences I’ve had in my entire undergraduate career,” he recalls.
Like the week-long learning trips over school breaks, the Alternative Weekend experiences give students a chance to learn about issues and volunteer in meaningful ways related to those issues. Introduced in Fall, 2015, the weekend trips are intended to give more students an opportunity to participate.
“There are a number of different reasons why the week-long trip may not work for a student,” says Laura Schwartz, Alternative Breaks Coordinator at the Bennion Center. “This is a way to be a part of the Alternative Break movement in a way that works for the student.” Schwartz says adding the weekend program helps the Bennion Center serve more students. Approximately 12 students are included in each trip. Next year, she hopes the program will be able to offer more weekend excursions.
For Taylor Checketts, that meant picking apples with Green Urban Lunchbox. “We helped harvest apples and other produce they had in their garden on the side of a highway. They had hundreds of trees. After three or four hours we gathered the apples in crates and donated them to a local food pantry. As we were picking we counted the tonnage. Then we calculated what a single (farm) worker in Florida would be paid and how workers can be exploited.” The group spent evenings watching documentaries, having discussions and reflecting on the connections between hunger and food justice and what volunteers could do to help. The students shared meals and lodging at a camp Schwartz had arranged in Immigration canyon. A University Staff/Faculty Partner accompanied students throughout the weekend to mentor and support the student Site Leader.
“It’s a shortened version of a full Alternative Break experience in that you just don’t have as many days or stay as long,” Taylor explains. “You still volunteer, eat and sleep together and stay together the entire trip. You’re still spending time reflecting on what you’ve learned from the community partner.”
Since his Alternative Break Weekend, Taylor has also participated in an Alternative Spring Break week in Vancouver, Canada, where he worked to address community health issues. “Looking back on both Alt Break experiences, I don’t look at the weekend as being a lesser experience. They’re both very, very valuable. The learning and impact are still equivalent, which I didn’t expect,” he says. “It’s definitely not diluted.”
The 2016 Fall Alternative Break weekend trip will be held Oct. 21-23 in the Salt Lake area and will focus on refugee and human rights. The cost is $50, which includes food, lodging and transportation.
Register by Sept. 5 at altbreaks.bennioncenter.org.
Alternative Spring Break trip applications open Sept. 17. Visit altbreaks.bennioncenter.org for more information.