Alternative Break

Students travel all over to volunteer during winter break

Many students who participate in alternative break (AB) often come back wanting to change at least one aspect of their life.

AB is explained on the Keene State College website as, “Participants travel in teams, take part in service projects that address unmet community needs, gain awareness of critical social issues, enhance their individual growth, and prepare for lives of active citizenship.”


KSC Senior Monica Doorley went to Nicaragua for over winter break.

Photo contributed by  Gabby Vasquez-Billin

Photo contributed by Gabby Vasquez-Billin

Doorley was one of the leaders of the trip where they worked on a permaculture farm.

According to, “Permaculture is the conscious design and maintenance of agriculturally productive ecosystems which have the diversity, stability, and resilience of natural ecosystems.”

Doorley and her group stayed on the island of Ometepe. “In the mornings, we did work on the farm, and in the evening we took educational classes,” Doorley said.

The classes involved subjects such as fermentation, alternative medicines and Nicaraguan climate.

Doorley said the farm itself was completely sustainable. “We literally harvested the compost from the compost toilet while we were there and put it on the plants,” Doorley said.

“Just living in that kind of sustainable environment is an experience you can’t really have anywhere around here.”

Doorley said she thinks there is no better way to spend vacation than going on an AB trip.

“For me, I think getting the opportunity to go to Nicaragua and spending my break– it was just a new way of growth,” Doorley said.

Coming back to Keene, Doorley said the biggest adjustment for her was the difference in the food. While in Nicaragua, Doorley ate only farm-fresh food harvested from the land she was living on. After coming back to America, Doorley said much of the food disagreed with her.

Cincinnati, Ohio           

KSC senior Dakota Umbro spent her AB in Cincinnati, Ohio working with the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition.

Photo contributed by Casey Matthews

Photo contributed by Casey Matthews

Umbro said much of what they did involved serving food at soup kitchens, working at a transitional housing facility and participating in a walk-through tour learning about some of the history of Cincinnati.

In terms of fundraising, Umbro said they participated in a newsletter the Homeless Coalition writes and edits. “They print them off and give the [homeless] the newspaper and then they can go out and sell them and whatever they make is whatever they can take to get food,” Umbro said.

Umbro said her interest in the Cincinnati trip stemmed from her criminal justice major. “Understanding systematic issues was important to me,” Umbro said. “I have kind of history with homelessness when I was younger, so I was like ‘Why the heck not.’”

She noticed the lack of homelessness awareness and community involvement in Keene when she returned.

Umbro said, “In this location, for one, I feel like there’s not a lot of attention to the issue and some people are really rude and have furthered the stigma that these are just bums that want to get drunk.”

She came back feeling like her stigma towards less fortunate people had been demolished.

Umbro said the biggest things she learned during her trip was the philosophy behind the terms gentrification and hostile design.

“Gentrification,” Umbro said, “is essentially red lining and pushing people out of their homes especially people of color who might need low-income housing,” Umbro said.

Umbro explained hostile design as a method the city uses to keep the homeless out of public areas such as a divider on a bench or sloped edges on window sills.

Umbro said when she graduates, she is hoping to have more time to volunteer.

Memphis, Tennessee

KSC Senior Sarah Parece co-led the Memphis, Tennessee AB trip and worked in Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital.

Photo contributed by Jessica Ricard

Photo contributed by Jessica Ricard

Parece’s group worked with the volunteer services and child life specialists while they were in Memphis.

Their main duties involved doing whatever was needed during the day.

“For volunteer services, that usually means going into children’s rooms that were by themselves or if their parents needed to step out for a little bit we would just go in and spend time with them,” Parece said.

Parece said one of her favorite memories from the week was giving a struggling single mother a blanket and seeing how happy something so small made the woman.

Parece said, “I gave myself the goal to just try to not judge, and just have that ability to just walk up to people and start talking to them.”

She said the most noticeable difference from here being up north to down south was that people don’t just talk to each other.

“It’s just one of those amazing feelings where we just love what we do. We really try and go and make sure we are able to take things back with us to Keene,” Parece said.

Parece said every time she has gone on a trip she has changed some aspect of her education.

A year ago, she was an education major and says she has since changed it to focus more in social work.

Sebastien Mehegan can be contacted at

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