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Alternative Break

Campus Program Spotlight, June 2008

alternative break group phot at habitat for Humanity's "Restore"Sacramento State's Alternative Break program is a way to engage Sac State students in community based volunteer projects for mutual student and community gain. Twenty students participated in the inaugural Alternative Break - Spring 2007 to make a difference in the Sacramento community.  In 2008, 78 students were involved in more than 700 hours of service. This success is the result of promotion by the students who have participated and the combined effort of Community Engagement Center, Student Activities, and the Student Health Center.

Alternative Break seeks to engage students in extracurricular, extra-institutional activities over winter and spring breaks. Composed of various one-day volunteer activities, students participate in short term projects that yield long term results. Many students volunteer for multiple days.

two female students trim trees for American River Parkway Foundation Community based organizations thus far have included Habitat for Humanity, Sacramento Food Bank and Family Services, Sacramento Tree Foundation, Hands on Sacramento, the American River Parkway Foundation, and the Washington Neighborhood Center.

two female students dig trenches for a Habitat for Humanity houseThe volunteer projects are demanding, requiring commitment, teamwork, and initiative of the students. As students spend hours and days performing laborious tasks like digging ditches, pouring foundation, lifting, and removing invasive plant life from our American River Parkway, they create lasting memories and friendships, leaving their Alternative Break experience with a great sense of accomplishment.  

“I really felt accomplished when I got home. I just couldn’t stop talking about it. I was exhausted but accomplished.”

Alternative Break aims to increase student awareness of community needs and organizations, to increase student leadership and teamwork skills, and to introduce the community to the strengths of Sacramento State students. And thus far, Alternative Break has been successful in meeting these goals.

Alternative Break participants do street-side yard clean up outside Washington Neighborhood centerBased on pre and post tests administered to student participants, there was a significant increase in awareness of community need as a result of Alternative Break experiences. When asked to indicate their level of agreement with the statement “I am aware of the needs of the Sacramento community,” the combined agree and strongly agree responses jumped from 39.58% in the pre tests to 75% in the post tests.

Student feedback also indicates that the students who participated as team leaders gained invaluable leadership experience. Mishae Parker, a senior in the Psychology department commented, “It was very rewarding to meet people who I generally wouldn’t be associated with. I know that we tend to make assumptions about people based on how they look – their clothes etc. – and as a team leader especially, I had to be really mindful of that. But what I found is that people who generally would not associate together worked really well together and had a lot of fun.” 

Kellie Cook, a sophomore in the Health Science department said, “The leadership skills I gained from the week will absolutely help me the rest of my life.”

male student carries bag at Habitat for Humanity siteAnd many students commented that the diversity of the group reflected Sacramento State.  The group was composed of both staff and students, and the student volunteers represented a variety of class levels, departments, and campus club and sports team affiliation.

The feedback from the community members we’ve partnered with has been overwhelmingly positive as well.

Jeannie Barry Sanders of Habitat for Humanity wrote: “We would love to have more Sac State students.  Sacramento Habitat for Humanity thinks so highly of Alternative Break and the students who sign up for projects are always willing and happy to serve.  They have a good sense of humor and understand that our mission is to build houses for low income families ….  I think the students are just awesome in their capacity for giving.”

As Alternative Break is still in its infancy stage, Community Engagement Center is excited about the growth that has happened in its first year. We have seen many students return from previous Alternative Breaks and have had the support of the Sac State women’s rowing team during both Winter and Spring 2008. We see a great capacity for further growth of this program and believe that it is making a mark on both the students who participate and the greater community.


Each year, more than two thousand Sacramento State students, faculty, staff, and alumni participate in programs and projects sponsored by Community Engagement Center. Programs such as Alternative Break, AmeriCorps Students in Service, Sac State Serves, and Service Learning fulfill our mission to facilitate learning and engagement by linking campus and community for mutual benefit. Through Spotlight, Community Engagement Center will highlight outstanding individuals and programs advancing community engagement in the Sacramento region.

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last updated: 1/22/2009