Participant FAQs

You’ve heard the ABCs are a unique conference experience — what does that look like in practice? This FAQ section is intended to answer lingering questions you may have.

With the pandemic still a very real threat, we’re not yet making any decisions about the format (virtual vs. in-person) of the 2021 ABCs. Information about the registration process, payment, and the Staff Development Track can be found on their respective pages. We will continue to expand on these general FAQs over time.

Please reach out if you still have unanswered questions — we promise we don't bite!

Updated September 2020

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 attended 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. 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 student to staff participants) 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.

When can I find out more about the 2021 ABCs?

In a typical year, we announce the dates for the ABCs in February, accept registrations from mid-March to late May, and have the conferences in June and July. Given the ongoing pandemic, no decisions about the format or timeline of the 2021 ABCs have been made. Follow along on social media and the Chapter listserv for the most up to date information.


Much like a traditional alternative break, the ABCs are an immersive experience — in short, the ABCs are intense. 

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 (see the 2019 in-person and 2020 virtual sample schedules). 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 a disability or other particulars unless you feel comfortable. We believe accommodations are a fundamental right.

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.

If you have specific conflicts during the week that will take you away from conference programming (e.g. an important phone meeting), your Team Leaders can work with you to find a solution that meets your needs while honoring the team aspect of the experience.


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

Housing specifics vary by ABCs. 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. Staff room 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 will do our best to honor. When making housing assignments, we take participants’ self-identified gender identity, as articulated in 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. 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.

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’ll include conference-specific information about wheelchair access, distance between conference buildings, and any other information regarding accessibility along with conference logistic information. 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.

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.


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 how that is executed, but do our best to articulate those needs ahead of time and advocate for our participants during the conference.

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 inform our staff and we’ll help ensure there’s food available to you at appropriate times.


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 community.

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 a volunteer orientation, 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.