VOLbreaks, which operates out of the Jones Center for Leadership and Service, has been providing alternative break trips for UT students for 26 years. Throughout that time, the program has rapidly expanded.
The first VOLbreak trip in 1993 consisted of a journey to Miami, Florida that 37 students participated in, accompanied by faculty and staff. And now, two-and-a-half decades later, VOLbreaks has 20 trips planned for the 2019-2020 school year. Each trip is planned by an individual set of student leaders.
Maria Martinez, coordinator for VolBreaks, explained that alternative breaks are truly designed with the intention of attracting students interested in doing service and studying an important social issue, not those searching for a vacation.
“[Trip leaders] plan [their trips] surrounding social issues that they care about and that they want people to learn about,” Martinez said. “We want [students] to pick [their trip] based on social issues that they care about and that they’re passionate about or that they want to learn more about.”
A great deal of planning has gone into the creation of the upcoming alternative breaks.
“I’m super excited for a lot of them. [The trip leaders] have been really intentional about doing their research and doing needs assessment,” Martinez said.
Mattie Roediger, a sophomore trip leader, explained how she arrived at her decision to plan her trip around affordable housing.
“Understanding the intersectionality of all the different issues that lead up to affordable housing is very interesting,” she said.
Roediger became involved with VOLbreaks last year when her friend Nia Myrthil, a sophomore who is leading the wealth and youth development trip this fall, encouraged her to look into the program.
“I just really love service, so when I heard about this program and what it was about and their dedication to service and leadership, I really was interested, so I went on the fall and spring trips, and I would do it all over again multiple times,” Myrthil said.
With her upcoming fall break trip, Myrthil hopes to gain understanding of the way that income and wage gaps affect the development of youth, with the hope that comprehending the situation will improve adolescents’ futures.
“I think it’s really important to look at the factors that help developing youth as a whole, especially when it comes to wealth in America and the income equality gap. I think that’s very important when it comes to children especially and how they grow up and their future success,” Myrthil said. “I think it’s really important to look at both causes and see how we can better that for the future”
Roediger stressed that above all, her goal for the students who embark on her trip is to return to Knoxville and share the lessons they learned on VOLbreak.
“I just hope that the participants leave with an understanding of this topic and also learn that you can make an impact and be an active citizen no matter what community you are a part of,” Roediger said.
Myrthil reciprocated the same feelings.
“I really want [the students] to bring it back to Knoxville and bring it back to their communities,” she said.
Nine of VOLbreaks’ upcoming 20 trips are planned for next month’s fall break, and the organization recently held a “lottery night” to determine which students would be attending what trips this fall.
The location of each trip was not revealed to the public in order to ensure that students selected a trip based off of its societal goal instead of its destination; students will be informed about the location of their trip at their first VOLbreak meeting after lottery night.
On Wednesday evening, dozens of interested students arrived at the Student Union, filled out a packet with their information and received a number. Students then gathered in a room and were introduced to the 9 different trips that were available to them; trip leaders and organizers were positioned around the room at individual tables, with colorful posters displaying the subjects of their trips.
And finally, a random number generator was then used to call out students’ numbers. When a student’s number was drawn, they dashed over to the trip of their choosing and signed up. Every time that a number was called out, other students and trip leaders in the room cheered excitedly and applauded.
The lottery system was created to ensure that students were given the option to choose their trip and that trips filled up equally, Martinez explained.
“We give students their first choice of what trip they want to go to — first, second, third choice, but also we make sure that the trips are evenly filling out and things like that,” she said.
Several spots for fall break alternative trips are still open, and VOLbreaks will hold another lottery in the spring for their spring break trips. You can remained informed about the program and lottery dates on the Jones Center’s Instagram page.