By Jocelyn Racelis

Mizzou Alternative Breaks students paint Aug. 29 at Paper Moon Early Learning Center in Columbia. Sarah Rielley/University of Missouri
Mizzou Alternative Breaks students paint Aug. 29 at Paper Moon Early Learning Center in Columbia. Sarah Rielley/University of Missouri

Students taking part in this year’s Mizzou Alternative Breaks (MAB) trips will have unique opportunities to learn about the needs in their own communities.

“Service is needed in our community more than ever and it can be done safely,” MAB coordinator Sarah Rielley says. “Often, we forget there are service needs in our own hometowns.”

By providing a variety of opportunities to serve during school breaks, the student-led organization encourages students to be active participants in whatever way they can.

In the past, groups of students would cram into cars and drive across the country to serve communities in need.

This year, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, students on MAB’s execute board reinvented the way service trips look to keep participants and communities safe.

“Although this year is going to look super different, we are so excited to still be able to provide opportunities for students to serve,” says RaeAnn Leist, MAB’s director of logistics.

Now MAB participants will serve in their home communities over the Thanksgiving and winter breaks. This new method will encourage students to learn about the needs in the places where they live and find service opportunities after graduation.

Participants will plan their service with the help of MAB site leaders, experienced students assigned to lead each group. Students choose to focus on different areas of service — from homelessness and poverty to women’s advocacy or environmental issues — depending on the needs of the community.

Each participant will serve at least three hours a day during their designated service week. Afterwards, participants will meet virtually with their assigned MAB group to discuss their work and reflect. There will be motivational kick-offs each morning, as well as relevant panels and speakers to talk to each group.

“We are making the best out of a bad situation,” says site leader Camryn Long. “We can’t proceed like we normally do, so this is the next best thing. [The executive board] have worked hard to make this still feel as close to the original trips as possible and we site leaders are going to do our best to help our groups bond and grow together like the regular trips.”

Participating students will safely meet and bond with their fellow MAB participants during a group service weekend in Columbia before leaving for Thanksgiving break. The weekend’s service activities will include helping eradicate invasive species and helping build homes with Habitat for Humanity. Students will serve with roughly 20 community partners.

There will be no fee to participate in MAB this year, making MAB more affordable and accessible to all and encouraging people to participate who were not able to in the past.

“A lot of people were impacted financially [this year], so we saw it as a priority to make sure there wasn’t a participant fee. Now, students don’t have to stress because of a cost barrier,” Leist says.

Applications for Thanksgiving and winter break trips are open Sept. 13–27.