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Fall Alternative Break in Columbus, Ohio

October 25, 2016

Alternative Break trips at IUPUI are national, social issue-focused, service-based trips that take place during IUPUI's fall and spring breaks. These alcohol- and drug-free trips allow students to connect with different communities and cultures while working to create positive, sustainable change. These trips are an “alternative” to the common idea of a spring break -- instead of sweating on beaches and sleeping in hotels, students sweat while doing service and bring sleeping bags!

Each trip is focused around one or two social issues and is headed up by student leaders in the Alternative Break Scholarship program. These trips are fun ways to meet other students, learn more about issues in our society and do service work with community organizations outside of Indiana.

This fall break, 36 student participants, four Alternative Break Co-Coordinators and two staff advisors ventured to Columbus, Ohio. The social issues for the trip included emergency preparedness, affordable housing, urban farming and food insecurity.  

Freshman Michaela Somers spoke with Inside IUPUI about choosing to give up her plans for a "regular" fall break, the highlight of the trip and her overall experience on her first Fall Alternative Break.

Why did you choose to go on this trip over fall break?

I wanted to get plugged in on campus, and I love community service, so this trip was a perfect blend of the two. I didn’t have to give up a trip to the Bahamas or anything fun like that, but I had to give up some of the simple luxuries that I take for granted every day. These include a bed, sleeping in, a single roommate, quality food and having time to just relax. Clearly, sleeping was a major sacrifice -- and I realized that the second I walked into the small tile-floored room that 10 of us were to share. Regarding food, we ate following the “Snap Challenge.” This is a challenge to eat the way that many Americans are forced to eat by spending no more than $4 a day per person. We modified it slightly, spending no more than $2 per person for breakfast, $4 for lunch and $5 for dinner. With that said, we ate a lot of PB&J, Pop-Tarts and Gordon Food Services chili. It was not the worst thing ever, but the small servings made me realize how I take for granted the buffet-style Tower food I eat every day. Lastly, we ran pretty rugged on our two service days, with a free day on Sunday. Many of us wanted to make the most of the trip and ended up walking several miles all over Columbus, including to the Ohio State University campus.

Students ended each day of service with a time of discussion and reflection.

Students ended each day of service with a time of discussion and reflection. | Photo By MICHAELA SOMERS

What was your daily schedule like?

It was something new every day, as we served with different organizations and for different causes. Friday was our travel day, so we made the three-hour drive, arrived at the church we stayed in, introduced ourselves to the pastor, made dinner, and ended the night with a get-to-know-you session and some free time.

Saturday was a busy day. We canvassed neighborhoods with the American Red Cross and packed educational packets on fire safety. We ended each day with a time of group reflection in order to navigate and discuss what each person had learned during their time serving.

Our third day began by greeting and thanking the congregation of the church that had housed us all weekend. Then we spent the day exploring Columbus as a group, visiting some tourist landmarks and eating lunch together. We were given some free time in the afternoon, so our large groups split into smaller groups as some students went to shop and others trekked to Ohio State University.

Michaela Somers (center), Jenny Yang (left) and Amna Abdulbari (right)

Fall Alternative Break allowed Somers to make new friends and deepen the community she's made during her freshman year. | Photo By MICHAELA SOMERS

On Monday we split into four groups in order to serve with different organizations. One group focused on the social issue of food insecurity by serving with St. Stephen's Community House, another focused on urban farming by spending the day at Franklington Gardens and the other two groups worked with Habitat for Humanity to help build affordable housing. We returned to the church for our final session of reflection, packed our things and got on our way home to Indy. 

Describe some of the experiences you had on the trip. 

The whole trip was an experience that I’ll never forget thanks to the satisfying work we completed and the lasting friendships that were made. One specific moment that was sobering both personally and for our group was when we were working with the American Red Cross. When we first arrived, they educated us on the high rate of house fires in that area (nationally, an average of seven people die every day in a house fire; this area is a high-risk neighborhood due to the age and architecture of the homes) and their effort to lower the mortality rate as a result of these fires. Then they sent us out in pairs to these neighborhoods to hang pamphlets on people’s doors to let them know that the Red Cross, along with the Columbus Fire Department, would be there the following Saturday to inspect or install smoke detectors.

Within a few minutes of canvassing, my partner and I received a text from one of the leaders that a nearby family had a fatal house fire. When we arrived on that street, that particular house was the first thing that caught our eye. We were frozen in silence and couldn’t take our eyes off of what was left of the house. We knew that our volunteering was helpful for the community, but physically touching the scorched wood made it hit home. It all became very real as we could personally see the disaster that we were out there trying to prevent. We all felt accomplished knowing this community was better prepared for emergencies thanks in part to our work that morning. It made walking a couple miles in the cold just to drop off a piece of paper at each home so worth it.

Students serving during Alternative Fall Break in Columbus, OH.

"It was such a diverse group with such a wide range of ages, races, religious beliefs and majors, but we all did share one thing: a love for people and a desire to serve those in need. Working side-by-side with these individuals opened my eyes to all the good out there in the world." | Photo By MICHAELA SOMERS

On a personal note, I didn’t know a single person when our group departed for Columbus. But that changed quickly. Although riding with five people for a three-hour car ride, sleeping in a room with 10 other girls for three nights and sharing two bathrooms with 40 people allowed us to get to know one another, it was the nightly games and social time that really brought us together. It was so refreshing to know everyone was willing to give up sleep, social media or anything else they could have been doing just to come together and spend time playing a silly card game.

Would you recommend the experience to other IUPUI students?

Absolutely! This is such a rewarding and beautiful experience. Whether you want to get connected on campus, serve the community or just take a cheap vacation (it’s only $50!), this is the perfect option. I made lifelong friends and truly served the city of Columbus. I also appreciated the way the trip leaders related the social issues we were discussing with the current state of Indianapolis. We were able to bring home everything we learned during our trip to apply it in our own community.

What was the highlight of the trip?

The highlight of my trip was absolutely the people I met. Every great experience I think about on the trip involves those great human beings. Even something as simple as making dinner turned into an amazing memory just because of the goofballs who cooked with me. It was such a diverse group with such a wide range of ages, races, religious beliefs and majors, but we all did share one thing: a love for people and a desire to serve those in need. Working side-by-side with these individuals opened my eyes to all the good out there in the world. I know they are all going to do amazing things. I hope to see them all on future Alternative Break trips.

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