Elon students engage in local initiatives through 2021 Alternative Break program

The Alternative Break experience took on a new form this year as student volunteers traveled across North Carolina’s Piedmont region to perform local acts of service.

For a group of service-minded Elon students, a weekend in March was the perfect opportunity to make a difference in the local community.

Those 33 students participated in the Kernodle Center for Civic Life’s Alternative Break experience, which took on a new form this year. A typical Alternative Break offers students the chance to perform acts of service in communities across the country and around the world over the course of a week, but due to ongoing COVID-19 restrictions, this year’s program took place over a weekend and had more of a local focus.

March 19-21, students took part in one of five service initiatives in nearby Burlington, Greensboro, Raleigh and Chapel Hill. Each student-led service project focused on a variety of social issues, giving students new perspectives about the challenges facing their neighbors.

“What was cool about this year’s Alternative Break was that our students got to engage and get to know our community partners and got to learn more about local issues,” said Assistant Director of the Kernodle Center Kyle Anderson.

A student brings food to a family during the Dream Center’s recent meal distribution event. (Courtesy: CityGate Dream Center)

In Burlington, Alternative Break participants focused on education and community service initiatives at the CityGate Dream Center. Students worked with Dream Center staff to host a drive-thru meal distribution event and volunteered at the center’s COVID-19 vaccination clinic. It was an unforgettable learning experience for Savannah Josey ’22, who co-coordinated the Alternative Break experience at the Dream Center. Josey says she came away with several valuable lessons after spending just one weekend working with the organization.

“Volunteering with the Dream Center taught me that big goals can be accomplished using grit and community support,” Josey said. “Their ability to persevere and thrive in adverse times was inspiring to learn about.”

While Josey and the rest of the Dream Center volunteers worked in Burlington, another group of Elon students traveled to Greensboro to serve local immigrant and refugee families. Students worked with The Center for New North Carolinians to provide services to its families and partnered with the organization on a community yard sale fundraiser in support of the center’s mission. Ian Myers ’22 co-coordinated the program in partnership with Elon Hillel and says he was enlightened by the experience.

Elon students participated in a community yard sale fundraiser for The Center for New North Carolinians in Greensboro, NC, during the 2021 Alternative Break experience. (photo by Ian Myers ’22)

“Learning about refugee resettlement and interacting with the community taught me a lot about what refugees have to go through when arriving in the United States,” Myers said. “It was also refreshing to play and hang out with kids full of energy.”

This year’s Alternative Break also included programs focused on racial justice and civil rights in Greensboro, relationships between religious traditions and the environment in Burlington and Raleigh, and home building with Habitat for Humanity in Chapel Hill. Although fewer students were allowed to participate in this year’s Alternative Break program because of social distancing requirements, organizers wanted to make sure those who could take part walked away inspired.

“The value of being in person can’t be replicated by doing things virtually,” Anderson said. “Our work is most successful when students are getting to have in-person interactions with folks who are different from them, meeting with community members and having important conversations. So I think the ability to do that in person definitely left a lasting impact.”

Learn more about the Alternative Break program at Elon by visiting the Kernodle Center for Civic Life’s webpage here.