Participant FAQs

Information about the registration process, payment, refund/cancellation policies, and the Staff Development Track can be found on their respective pages. This section is intended to answer lingering questions you may have. You’ve heard the ABCs are a unique conference experience — what does that look like in practice?

We hope to continue to expand this page over time, so please reach out if there's something missing — we promise we don't bite!

General Questions

Why are they called the ABCs?

The Alternative Break Citizenship schools, also known as the ABCs, started as “Break Away Boot Camps” in 1992. The current name is an homage to the Citizenship Schools established throughout the South in the 1960s during the Civil Rights Movement to train activists and support voting rights. The Citizenship Schools were started at the Highlander Center, a catalyst for grassroots organizing and movement building in the South, from the labor movements in the 1930s to more recent multi-racial, inter-generational organizing around immigration justice.

Early in our history, Break Away staff attending trainings at the Highlander Center that helped shape our vision and voice. The Alternative Break Citizenship schools are a continuation of that work, dedicated to educating communities for social action.

Who attends the ABCs?

The ABCs are for everyone! The majority of attendees come from higher education institutions, although we’ve had a handful of participants from high schools and invite non-profit/community organization professionals to join us at Staff Track. Most participants are looking to apply the curriculum through the context of alternative breaks — they either have or are looking to start an alternative break program at their institution. However, the curriculum is broadly applicable to programming within community engagement, community based-learning, and social justice education.

Staff are often curious where they fit into the ABCs. As a whole, the vast majority of ABCs participants are students (it’s typically a 9:1 ratio of staff participants to students) and the experience is heavily student-focused. However, the curriculum is applicable to both roles and many staff participants have appreciated the opportunity to connect directly with students from other programs. If you prefer a more typical conference experience, we also offer a three-day Staff Development Track, which is hosted at one ABCs per summer. For more information about both options, visit the Staff Track page.

Participants under the age of 18 may not be able to attend all conferences — please contact our staff for more details. 

I've registered and paid what happens next?

First off, make sure you’ve actually registered — submitted the registration form; completed payment; and received a confirmation email. You’d be surprised by the number of new friends we meet the day the conference begins.

Your confirmation email, which will be sent 3-5 days after we receive your registration form, will include:

  • confirmation of which ABCs you’ll be attending 
  • information about the conference Facebook group, where you can start connecting with other participants
  • a link to the travel form, for you to fill out once you’ve finalized your travel plans

You’ll receive your Pre-Packet by email approximately two weeks before the ABCs begins. The Pre-Packet will include welcome and orientation information including a pack list, check-in instructions, and a selection of pre-trip education resources to introduce the alternative break focus area.

What do I need to bring to the ABCs?

A pack list will be sent out to participants in the Pre-Packet two weeks before the start of their ABCs. However, you can probably expect to see the following on that list:

  • Reusable water bottle and travel mug (for hot beverages)
  • All prescribed medications
  • Linens: bed sheets, blanket, and pillow
  • Towel
  • Comfortable, closed-toed shoes
  • Sunscreen, hat, or other methods of sun protection
  • Clothes you don’t mind getting dirty in (for service)
  • Casual, summertime clothing (for workshops)
  • Notebook and something to write with

We’d encourage you to leave behind anything you would be sad to lose or ruin. You’ll be sharing space and will have no storage for valuables. (And we like to play it safe during the ABCs.)

We also ask that participants refrain from using perfume, cologne, or other heavily-scented personal items to avoid triggering the sensitivities of others.

Schedule

Much like a traditional alternative break, the ABCs are an immersive experience — in short, the ABCs are intense. Breakfast begins at 7:30am, evening reflections can go until 9:30pm, and (although it’s not encouraged by our staff) it’s not uncommon for participants to stay up with each other afterward, fueled by the exhilaration of finding “their people”. 

We believe the ABCs are an experience we create together (staff, participants, and community partners). And like many things, you get out of the ABCs what you put into them. For that reason, we strive to create an environment where people are participating fully and we recognize that may look different for everyone. We want participants to take time to meet their own needs and we’re eager to work with you to make that happen. 

We encourage people to start by taking a look at the conference sample schedule. We’ve tried to outline the most frequently asked questions here but encourage you to reach out to discuss further. We won’t expect you to disclose or discuss your disability or other particulars unless you feel comfortable; we believe accommodations are a fundamental right.

I'm taking a summer class and have an assignment due during the ABCs.

If you can plan ahead, we’d encourage you to limit the amount of work you have to do while at the ABCs. While there are breaks in our schedule, typically around mealtimes, believe us when we say you’re going to want to spend those resting or enjoying time with new friends.

All conferences do have wifi access available — sometimes by request, in the case of the most remote ABCs — so submitting assignments electronically should not be a barrier.

What opportunities are there to modify the schedule, if needed?

If you’re anticipating that you may need additional breaks during the ABCs, we’d love to work with you to proactively identify alternate plans. That doesn’t exclude the opportunity to make last minute adjustments, but helps our staff and your team plan ahead.

In particular, if you’re looking to give yourself an earlier night sometime during the week, Social Night might be a good choice mid-week. We can also help you identify lower-impact service projects. Throughout the conference, if you find yourself needing to take a break, just keep your Site Leaders and the Break Away staff in the loop. 

If you have specific conflicts during the week that will take you away from conference programming (i.e. an important phone meeting), your Site Leaders can work with you to find a solution that meets your needs while honoring the team aspect of the experience. If you need to leave the conference site (to attend a religious service, for example), we ask that you notify our staff and your Site Leaders in advance.

How does travel to the ABCs work?

Our staff works with local contacts to compile recommendations of easy, affordable ways to travel from major transportation hubs (i.e. airport, bus station, etc.) to our host location. For some conferences, this includes the option of traveling on an ABCs-specific shuttle – consult the conference logistics for your specific conference to find out if that’s an option for you. 

If you’re planning on using a ride-sharing service, might we suggest car-pooling with other conference attendees? This option has a whole range of benefits (it’s cheaper, reduces our carbon footprint, and builds community!) — we encourage participants to connect with each other on the conference Facebook page or email listserv to find folks whose travel plans match yours. 

Our staff tries our best to secure free or reduced parking at our host site for those driving and leaving their car at the ABCs. On the occasions we are not successful in that endeavor, participants may be required to purchase their own parking pass for the week. 

After your registration is confirmed, you’ll be asked to fill out a travel form with (as the name implies) information about your travel plans. This allows our staff to be fully prepared for your arrival. As always, we look forward to sharing meaningful eye contact and friendly smiles when you arrive on-site.

Will there be opportunities to explore (Location Name) while we're there?

As you’ll see in the sample schedule, our packed schedule won’t allow any time for exploring during the week. If you’d like that opportunity, we would encourage you to plan extra time before or after the ABCs.

Can I arrive a day early/stay a day late?

We see you, bargain-seeking traveler. If it makes travel plans easier to arrive a day early or leave a day late, we’re usually able to accommodate you for an extra night on-site. After you’ve registered, you’ll be able to request that option on your travel form. The cost for an extra night of housing is $25 per person, per night. 

Keep in mind: depending on the conference, dining access may not be available until the start of the conference (this is especially true for conferences hosted on college campuses). There are usually sufficient meal options within walking or delivery distance of the housing, but we’d encourage you to investigate those options before committing yourself to an extra day.

Housing

The ABCs are a community experience — in addition to attending workshops together during the day, we’ll also be sharing living space. It’s part of the immersive experience that makes the ABCs more intentional. 

Housing specifics vary by ABCs — be sure to check out the logistics section linked beneath the description of each conference — but here’s a taste of what you can expect, broadly: your registration fee includes shared housing for the duration of the conference, often in a campus dorm or similarly low-frills setting. Roommates will be assigned by the Break Away staff, unless specific requests are made.

How does the Break Away staff assign roommates?

We’ve had the chance to watch many a sweet roommate friendship blossom over our years at the ABCs. Because of that, our roommate-assigning philosophy is to mix things up! That means, unless a specific request is made, you will not be matched with a roommate from your institution or organization. We do however  room staff with staff and students with students (unless otherwise requested). 

ABCs housing is gender-inclusive, meaning roommates of all genders can stay together. The registration form asks about your roommate preferences (around gender, students vs. staff,  specific people you’d like to room with, etc.), which the Break Away staff staff will do our best to honor. When making housing assignments, we take participants’ self-identified gender identity, as articulated on their registration form, into account. 

We honor the requests of our trans and non-binary participants in order to support their access and safety while at the ABCs. If for some reason we can’t make the roommate or housing preferences articulated on your registration form happen, we’ll reach out and work with you to determine the next-best option.

Are single rooms available?

Pending availability, participants have the option to request a single on their registration form. If a particular conference does not have this as an option, that will be indicated in the conference logistics section. Typically, there’s a slight cost increase associated with a single room (usually an additional $25/night). We also don’t want cost to be prohibitive to those who need accommodations — please let our staff know if that’s a case and we can talk about options.

Are there all-gender restrooms available?

We prioritize the availability of all-gender restrooms near housing and workshop facilities as we’re selecting sites for the ABCs. Details will vary by conference, please check out the conference logistics pages for details or contact our staff with questions.

Is the housing wheelchair accessible?

Every effort is made to select sites that adhere to ADA requirements (although we understand that the ADA is far from comprehensive in its approach to access). We’ve included conference-specific information about wheelchair access, distance between conference buildings, and any other information regarding accessibility we have in the conference logistics section. In addition, a conference shuttle can be provided to limit the travel distance between conference activities, if requested.

Are there quiet spaces available for prayer or meditation?

Although this looks different based on the location of the ABCs, we designate a quiet space at each conference for participants’ use. Another option, depending on your personal needs, is to request a single room — see “are single rooms available?” for more details.

Will the housing be fragrance- or allergen- free?

We ask participants to refrain from bringing perfume, cologne, or other heavily-scented items to the ABCs to minimize participants’ exposure to fragrances. We can also work with participants on an individual basis to identify and minimize exposure to other allergens — please list any of those needs on your registration form.

Dining

Depending on the conference location, meals are either provided in partnership with the host site or cooked by the Break Away staff. We take the dietary needs and restrictions you confide in us seriously and are committed to providing well-rounded meals throughout the conference. When partnering with campus dining or other outside partners, we have less control over exactly how that is executed, but do our best to articulate those needs ahead of time and advocate for our participants during the conference, if needed.

We promise to keep you well-fed but you’re welcome to pack your own snacks, if you so desire. If you’ll be fasting while at the ABCs, please make a note on your registration form and we’ll help ensure there’s food available to you at appropriate times.

Service

As part of an alternative break experience, the ABCs includes an emphasis on service as an opportunity to support, learn from, and build relationships with the local community. Each team will have three opportunities for service, on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday of the conference.

What will the service be?

In the description for each ABCs, we try to share information about the types of organizations or service projects we’ll be working with.  As anyone who has planned an alternative break knows, projects can be in flux until the last minute and planning an alternative break experience for 70 people comes with its own share of challenges. Because of that, we typically don’t share the service schedule until the start of the conference.

How can I prepare for service?

We believe the best way to prepare for service is to engage fully in pre-trip education, orientation, and training. That starts with the Pre-Packet, which will be sent to each participant two weeks before the start of the conference, and provides an introduction to the topic, community, and organizations we’ll be working with. 

Before service, the entire conference will gather for Volunteer Orientation + Training, which explores our dominant narratives entering into service and emphasizes the practice of cultural humility. We’ll also have the chance to learn more about the organizations we’ll be working with that week.

What accommodations are available for service?

We try to consider accessibility holistically when putting together the ABCs: our goal is to put together a diverse range of service projects so that we can easily accommodate people’s needs. 

Participants can use their registration form to articulate any specific access needs, which we’ll work with our service partners to accommodate. We won’t expect you to disclose or discuss your disability or other particulars unless you feel comfortable; we believe accommodations are a fundamental right.