Return of UM’s Alternative Breaks program offers students opportunities to volunteer and bond

University of Miami Alternative Breaks (UMAB) announced the return of in-person, overnight service trips for this semester’s fall break. The program, which was temporarily suspended throughout the pandemic, gives students the opportunity to volunteer their time to aid in a variety of activism initiatives.

Last year, UMAB was forced to adjust much of the club to a virtual environment due to the difficulties of the pandemic and frequent changes in university travel policy. In lieu of on-site work, the organization invited activists to speak to its members.

“Last fall semester, we weren’t able to do any trips in person because of all the COVID-19 restrictions from the university, so we had a nonprofit come and speak on a zoom call, which was actually very successful, and we learned a lot from her,” said Baylee Brochu, a senior majoring in health science and psychology and the co-vice chair of UMAB.

Apart from virtual events in fall 2020, UMAB was only able to host a one-day in-person event through the 2021 spring semester. This limited window of opportunity did not allow for an overnight stay or opportunities to volunteer with nonprofit organizations outside of Miami.

“I’m really excited to be extending to farther away parts of Florida and staying overnight again to allow our participants to get more in depth experiences,” Brochu said.

All of UMAB’s service trips over fall break will be based within South and Central Florida, covering areas well outside the greater-Miami region. For spring break 2022, UMAB organizers are optimistic that they can return to their pre-COVID-19 national trips, expanding volunteering opportunities throughout the country and traveling to states including Illinois and California.

UM students throw up the “U” after a long day of planting vegetables with Cultivate Abundance in Immokalee, FL, in 2018.
UM students throw up the “U” after a long day of planting vegetables with Cultivate Abundance in Immokalee, FL, in 2018. Photo credit: Ellen Burnette

For fall break 2021, UMAB is offering students a choice between four trips based around four different social issues.

Participants can choose to volunteer their time to nature restoration, fighting poverty and food insecurity, wildlife conservation and rescue and animal welfare. The four initiatives have been paired up with existing nonprofits in the same field, which will host the students at the corresponding volunteer sites.

“The wild bird rehabilitation center is really cool. We’ve never worked with this nonprofit before, so that’s kind of what I’m most excited about, because we do a lot of work having to do with nature conservation and pets, but I don’t think we’ve ever worked with wild animals before,” said Brochu.

Lindsey Woods, assistant director of UM’s Butler Center For Service and Leadership, works as UMAB’s student advisor and helps execute their community service goals. She emphasizes how important UMAB is not only from a student perspective, but as one of UM’s many volunteer organizations serving the greater Miami and South Florida Community.

“We have about 40 different groups here at the university that have a service component to their mission and do regular service in some capacity,” Woods said. “Lots of students like those experiences, because not only are they then volunteering and contributing to their communities, but they’re also making friends and relationships within those groups with people who are like-minded and have similar interests to them,” she continued.

Woods works closely with UMAB to make sure they meet expectations and work collaboratively with local organizations to best accomplish their goals. Woods says she views the experience as a way for out-of-state students to build community in their home away from home.

“Many of our university’s students don’t come from South Florida, so this becomes a community and a home away from home for them for three or four years,” Woods said. “It’s wonderful when they can give back to this greater South Florida community in a meaningful way through community service.”

Bao Duong, a senior majoring in neuroscience and co-chair of UMAB, says he first got hooked on UMAB’s fall break trips as a way to learn about the local communities around UM, having been raised outside of South Florida.

“Sometimes being at UM feels like being in a bubble, so UMAB has given me a greater appreciation for my community and how to reach out to others,” Duong said.

Whatever service a student may be interested in, UMAB provides a helping hand to those it works with while also leaving a lasting impact on members through its blend of service and camaraderie.

“We really emphasize that our trips are about the service that we make to the community, but it’s even more about the impact we have on our participants,” Brochu said.

“The truth about going to a site for a few days is, of course you’re doing something really good, but, what’s even better is that you’ll create bonds with people and experiences that make you want to continue to do that aspect of going with friends and having a fun time,” Brochu said.

Any students interested in future volunteer efforts are encouraged to reach out to UMAB. Those interested in attending this fall break’s trips, however, will have to act fast, as applications are due tonight, Sept. 27, on Engage. Check out their Instagram at @umalternativebreaks and their website at https://umalternativebreaks.wixsite.com/umab for more information.