An alternative idea for Alternative Breaks

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Alternative Breaks (AB) are rather appealing. They provide an opportunity for students to volunteer as a group, but they also are almost always out of state, which tricks the mind into thinking one still traveled and did “spring break” right.

I know several people who have done ABs with SVSU and loved it. It costs about $200 for a week, you get to see the country, make new memories with new friends and give back to the community that’s hosting you.

But that’s the rub: Because you’re going out of state, you have to pay to volunteer. Clearly, $200 for a week out of state isn’t a terrible deal; however, hundreds of in-state charities would kill for that $200. Instead of paying to volunteer out of state, perhaps a better option would be to collect that $200 and donate both your time and money.

I understand that going out of state is advantageous. To begin, it’s an incentive to get students to actually volunteer. Unfortunately, not everyone is willing to volunteer out of the goodness of their own heart. That’s why going out of state to volunteer offers students a different way of looking at volunteering – that is, as a spring break away from Michigan and its bipolar climate where one splits the time doing good and then the other half doing, well, spring break.

There’s nothing wrong with giving students an incentive to volunteer. Although volunteering that is intrinsically motivated is always the best option, it is also an unrealistic one. However, there are still incentives to volunteer in-state. For instance, students could still visit a different city for far cheaper than going out of state. Michigan is a rather diverse state. Thus, visiting Detroit or Grand Rapids for the day – or visiting several different cities throughout the week – would still feel like a trip compared to staying in Saginaw for the week.

Practically every city in Michigan could use more volunteers, especially with the windstorms in Metro-Detroit last week, the on-going problems Flint is facing concerning water supplies or even Saginaw with its above-average poverty levels. Likewise, instead of spending $200 to volunteer, one could just pay the gas money to go to a different city and donate the money one saved to the charity. This way, everyone wins. The charity gets your time and money, and you get to not be in Saginaw.

Of course, going out of state also has a self-serving purpose for the university: getting the university’s name out there. Yes, it is a great publicity opportunity, but so is advertising within the state. Most students who are looking at attending SVSU are from Michigan. There are obviously exceptions, but it is still a fair generalization.

While in-state, students can still have their Twitter posts saying #WeVolunteer or #WeCardinal or whatever hashtag young folk are using to appease the university’s need to show off the good things its students are doing. Hashtagging in-state, though, would mean prospective students would be exposed to current students, which is never a bad idea.

Besides showing off current students to perspective students, staying in-state also has the added benefit of helping one’s own neighbor, so to speak. Unfortunately, one doesn’t have to look far to find someone in need. Michigan is no exception. There is no need to leave one’s state, let alone one’s street, to find someone in need.

While there are certainly people out of state who could use help “more” than those in-state, one can always look for someone worse off and will always find someone. Craig from Saginaw is better off than Alice from New Orleans, who is better off than Lois from Africa, who is better off – well, you get it. Looking to help the person who needs it the most is an endless task, and one could’ve helped thousands of people in their quest to find the most worse-off person.

Volunteering over Spring Break, no matter where it is, is obviously a noble and commendable thing to do. However, a dollar in-state will go farther than a dollar out of state because of the travel expenses, especially because of money for meals and lodging. Unfortunately, there is an endless need for help within the state of Michigan, and helping out one’s neighbor can be just as rewarding as helping strangers from another state. While ABs out of state are a great idea, so, too, is volunteering in your own neighborhood.