Story by Erik Potter

Sam Hopp smiles at the camera. Behind her is a grassy, sunny, tree-lined Kuhlman Court.
Sam Hopp, a senior in biology, has been on three weeklong Mizzou Alternative Breaks. She still plans to be a physician assistant, but because of the service trips, she wants to serve in the Peace Corps first. Photo by Katrina Boles

A leader at the after-school program at D.C. General sang out re-written lyrics of a popular rap tune. Around him, the kids who lived in the former Washington, D.C., hospital, now a family homeless shelter, danced and shouted. At the edges of the room, a dozen volunteers from Mizzou Alternative Breaks clapped tentatively to the unfamiliar song.

One of the children turned and approached Sam Hopp, a Mizzou sophomore from Chanhassen, Minnesota. The young girl took Hopp by the hand and, smiling, sang and danced with her.

Hopp had volunteered throughout high school but never for any reason other than that it was a good thing to do. It was a rote experience. This felt different.

“I had done nothing to earn that moment,” Hopp says. “I could see, from the look in her eyes, why service was important. I finally learned not what service means to others but what it means to me.”

She can’t quite describe the emotion it stirred in her other than to call it “a big feeling.” She came back to campus wanting to help give other students that same big feeling.

Mizzou Alternative Breaks (MAB) is accepting volunteer applications through Sept. 23 for weeklong service trips in January. Thirty-eight traditional winter break trips will fan out across the country. Two international service trips will serve abroad.

Now a senior, Hopp is the director of leadership and service for the January 2019 winter break trips.

The weeklong trips offer students the chance to apply classroom learning in real-world situations. Hopp works with site leaders to ensure that participants also come away with an understanding of the societal issues their service projects touch on.  

But while students will do a lot of work on the trips, they aren’t “work trips” — applicants should leave the résumé versions of themselves behind, Hopp says. The trips are about coming together as individuals to serve and to have fun.

“It’s not supposed to be something so serious,” she says.

For more information, visit breaks.missouri.edu/join/.