One of the questions the Break Away office receives over and over is, "How can our group start and organize an alternative break trip?" Planning an alternative break can be very simple, or fairly complicated depending on the number of people you want to participate and the number of trips you want to take. Another major factor is the quality of the program you want to establish. The Break Away model involves much more than setting up the logistical components of a service trip, but also includes extensive pre-trip education, orientation, training, and teambuilding. The success of our model also depends on effective Reorientation, a process that transforms the alternative break experience into the beginning of lifelong active citizenship. Since we encourage most schools to begin their alternative break program with just one or two trips, that is the scenario you will find described below.
Step 1: Form a Steering Committee
Bring in students from a variety of groups and organizations on campus to form a steering committee. This does two things: a diverse steering committee automatically multiplies the number of people who will hear about your program and by having a committee, you don't end up doing all of the work. There will be several basic tasks you will have to deal with when planning your program and each one deserves someone to be in charge.
Step 2: Design a Mission and Consider Joining the National Alternative Break Movement
After you have recruited five or six responsible people who are interested in the program, the first task this group has is to design a mission statement for your program. Set a meeting time and create a space where your group can meet for a brainstorming session. A mission statement should provide your group with a collective purpose and direction, allow you to focus what you are doing and bring accountability among group members. During your brainstorming session, throw out the following questions:
What do we hope to accomplish with this program?
Where do we want to go and what do we want to do?
Who do we want to become involved in our program?
Why do we want students to become involved?
You can write down all the responses to the questions on flip charts and tape the sheets up so that everyone can read all responses. These responses should help you come up with a one or two sentence purpose for being.
We hope that your discussion will lead you to join Break Away and the national alternative break movement in our quest to use alternative breaks as a means toward a society of active citizens. No matter what you decide the purpose or mission of your program should be, it needs to be something definite and intentional because it will serve as the basis against which all future decisions will be made.
Step 3: Set Your Goals
After you have a mission statement, you can begin to set some goals for the year. Think about how many students you want to recruit and how many sites you want to sponsor. Look at where you want to go and what topics (social issues) your students would be interested in exploring. Think about the amount of money you can afford to spend on these trips and where that money will come from. This is where you should look for possible pitfalls in your plan and see how you can avoid them. You might consider organizing just one alternative break trip for your first year and keeping it close to home (keep the costs down). It is also at this time that steering committee members can take on specific roles such as treasurer, publicity, site selection, trip coordinator, etc.
Step 4: Create a Timeline
The easiest way to create a timeline is to start with the dates of your break (e.g. Jan 10-17 or March 13-22, etc.) and work backwards. Think about when you need to have things done and set a completion date, then allow enough time from that date to get them done. For example, if you know you want all the fundraising to be completed by March 1st and you think it will take three months for each team to raise $1000, then fundraising efforts should start at least by December 1st. The checklist that you will find below should help when you are trying to think about what needs to be done.
Now you are ready to start! You have a steering committee made up of responsible, committed, enthusiastic individuals who understand what they need to do and why they are doing it. So go for it! Remember that you can receive additional assistance and support by having your campus join Break Away and the national alternative break movement. This support includes a Chapter Handbook (a "how to" guide), sample documents, access to the SiteBank and national email listserv, discounts on training and products, and much more.
ALTERNATIVE BREAK CHECKLIST
Form a Steering Committee
Develop a Mission
Join Break Away and the national alternative break movement
Set Goals and Timeline
Hold a General Information Session
Get Applications Out
Keep Contact with Site(s)
Education and Train Participants
Go on Break!
Begin Reorientation Process through post-break activities