Volunteering at home

Alternative break options now include Madison area


Clarion Staff

Alternative spring break volunteers help with The Madison Reading Project


Almost every year, the students who have gone on alternative break trips have made a presentation about their trip to the Madison College District Board. Often, these students would get asked the same question from various members of the board, said Volunteer Center coordinator Brianna Stapleton Welch.

“They’d get asked, why do you travel to other states, when we have needs here,” explained Stapleton Welch.

In addition, the students and staff who organized the trip received feedback over the years that many students would like to do service over break but weren’t able to travel for various reasons.

Some had children and couldn’t get away, others couldn’t afford the cost of travel. The trips held this year in Panama Beach, Florida, and Perryville, Arkansas were as much as $550.

So, for the first time, the Volunteer Center offered a local service option over spring break that ran Monday through Friday, working with one or two Madison-based service agencies each day.

The option was more affordable. The cost was $45 per student, and it included food, transportation, and a t-shirt. Additionally, the service didn’t require any over-night stays, which made it possible for students to participate even if they had other evening obligations.

“This was an option designed to be a little more flexible for people who have children and want to go, or those who have to work. It’s more affordable and can connect people to local needs,” Stapleton Welch said.

This year – referred to as the pilot year by Stapleton Welch – eight students participated in the local option.

“It’s been going great,” Stapleton Welch said before break. “The local partners were very excited to work with us. Some of the local partners at the Volunteer Fair saw the posters and asked, ‘How can we get involved with this and have you come to our site.’”

The week’s schedule included service stops at the River Food Pantry, Warner Park, Leopold Elementary School, the Madison Reading Project and the Ronald McDonald House.

Stapleton Welch said the goal was to mix indoor and outdoor opportunities.

At the end of the week, the group gathered and shared what they learned through the experience. They also were asked to offer their thoughts on how to improve the local alternative break trip.

“We told the students we really wanted their feedback about things this year,” Stapleton Welch said. “They understand they’re sort of piloting things and their experience will help us design it next year.”

“I think we already learned some things. It was originally priced at $95, and we got some feedback that people didn’t want to spend that much if they’re staying home. Some students said they were committed Monday and Tuesday, but were available on Wednesday and Thursday.”

Based on the feedback so far, Stapleton Welch expects to offer a local alternative break option again next year.

She feels the local option, as well as the farther trips offered, provide students a chance to get away and rejuvenate themselves, and help others in the process.

“When you think of spring break, you might think of travel and time away from your studies,” Stapleton Welch said. “An alternative spring break has all those things. You’re renewing yourself, but you have a chance to help the community as well.”