2015 Branch Out National Alternative Breaks

Ten opportunities to partner with communities for social justice

Education Inequality in Rural America: How Can we Lessen the Opportunity Gap?
Gaston, NC

This trip will help our team better understand education as it is seen in about one-third of America’s public schools - in rural areas. We will be partnering with the Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) charter school in an attempt to understand the tactics used by charter schools to motivate their students to overcome the barriers, such as poverty and lack of resources, that often deter students from performing to their maximum potential. Every day we’ll be assisting the teachers in KIPP with daily operations in order to enhance the educational output of the teachers and the understanding of both the students and ourselves. Additionally, we believe that engaging in the community can be beneficial to students so we shall explore how service in Gaston can be directed toward the bettering of the education of those who live in rural areas. We hope to also partner with the community in order to provide more opportunities and experiences that students can partake in outside the classroom. By doing so, we hope to return with a better understanding of the challenges faced in our flawed educational system. A family in the area will graciously provide us with their large basement to stay in.

Engaging the Aging: Bridging the Generation Gap
Richmond, VA

This spring we will travel to Richmond, VA to spend the week staying in a local church and work with our community partners, such as the Friendship Café. While working with our partners you will learn how to interact with the elderly to enable yourself to better understand the mental and physical effects of medical issues associated with aging. You will be able to observe how physical and cognitive rehabilitation from Alzheimer’s, strokes, and other age-related illnesses are addressed in the elderly community. In addition, you will get an inside look at how social determinants, such as social class, can affect treatments. Through our service, we hope to foster intergenerational respect and community. The ultimate goal of this trip is to learn about the physical, mental, and emotional effects of isolation on the wellness of the senior citizens, which is a growing population.

UCARE: Uninsured Communities; Altruistic Relief Efforts 
Kilmarnock, Virginia

Our alternative break consists of providing direct patient care to local rural communities who lack quality health services. We will be spending a week volunteering at Northern Neck Free Health Clinic in Kilmarnock, Virginia. The clinic helps fill critical healthcare gaps by by providing comprehensive, affordable, and high-quality healthcare to low-income, uninsured residents who lack access. Our team will assist the clinic with its long and short-term goals by assisting medical professionals, taking vitals and patient histories, and maintaining pharmacy as well as dentistry branch operations. Additionally, our team will gain a new perspective on the free health clinic model, develop relationships by interacting with patients, gain hands-on experience by shadowing medical professionals, and make professional connections by networking with alumni.

Sprouts of New Industry: Exploring Sustainable Urban Farming at Lynchburg Grows
Lynchburg, VA

Lynchburg Grows is a non-profit urban farm in the heart of Lynchburg, VA. With nine greenhouses, the farm and the surrounding area provide fresh local produce to the people of Lynchburg, from leafy greens to eggs and even roses! The farm is also heavily involved with other community groups such as churches, student programs, and food programs through charity, education, and volunteer opportunities. On this trip, we will be learning about the post-industrial farming movement that is a fast-growing sector of American agriculture. At the same time, we will be working hard at Lynchburg Grows, helping them get ready for the spring planting season while seeing firsthand how the farm can bring so many different community groups and neighbors together to one field.

Hammering Out Homelessness: Building Up Communities Through Affordable Housing
Mount Pleasant, SC

We will be spending the week in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina volunteering with the East Cooper Habitat for Humanity (ECHFH). Habitat for Humanity brings people together to build homes, communities, and hope. Through this trip we will have the opportunity to help build homes side-by-side with the community and future home-owners, meet with friends in the community, and learn about the issue of homelessness. At ECHFH, we can bond with community partners and understand how affordable programs help alleviate the issue of homelessness and empower communities. We will stay in a nearby church.

Cooking up Change: Discovering the Nexus of Homelessness, Hunger, and Former Incarceration
Washington, DC

Spend a week diving into the operations of DC Central Kitchen, a nonprofit organization dedicated to combating food insecurity. DCCK is much more than a "soup kitchen"-- we will learn about culinary job training for formerly incarcerated citizens, healthy meal initiatives for area youth, relationships with local farmers, convenience stores, and restaurants to reduce food waste and make available nutritious food, and much more. DCCK's culinary job training uniquely combats one of the primary drivers of hunger: unemployment, which is a major obstacle for those reintegrating into society. Join us as we work alongside active citizens who face these realities daily and who dedicate their lives to feeding “the soul of the city.” We will learn about the root causes and ways we can prevent hunger both in Washington D.C. and in our local community. Lodging accommodations will be provided by a local hostel.

Come With Me (in a World of DC Schools): Engaging Students on Education Inequalities
Washington, DC

Join us as we journey to the nation's capital to discover and investigate the rising issue of education inequality. Our trip will focus on establishing the extent of this inequality in an urban setting while searching for causes of the current education gap and policies that serve to promote it. During our time, we will be working in local elementary schools as teachers' aides and speaking to local residents and teachers on their experiences with education inequality in their community. This will include a panel discussion with education experts, scholars, and current policy makers. We will be working with and visiting multiple schools in the area. Our main partnership will be with KIPP  (Knowledge is Power Program) Public Charter School, an institution that is providing a unique approach to childhood education and closing the education gap. We will also visit a traditional public elementary school as we seek to learn from the similarities, differences, and efforts of each school. We will stay in a nearby hostel.

Mountain Justice Spring Break: Transformations in Appalachia, Virginia

Appalachia, VA

Come join us to learn about one of the most pressing environmental issues of our time: Mountaintop Removal (MTR). During our time in Appalachia (a town in southwest Virginia), we’ll experience firsthand the environmental, health, economic, and social impacts it has on Appalachian communities as we meet with community members to learn about organizing and resistance efforts. Past service trips have included workshops, service field trips and evenings winding down with amazing local/regional music and campfires sharing stories with a diverse group of others dedicated to the cause of ending MTR. Service opportunities may include working on mountain bike/hiking trails, helping to weatherize homes for low income community members, and clearing invasive species. While service will help us engage and help the community members during the break, workshops will give us the tools to continue addressing the issue of MTR when we get home. Through the workshops we will learn more about the history of coal and MTR, power dynamics, creating sustainable systems, and techniques in nonviolent direct action. At the end of the week, an optional nonviolent direct action may occur to support local campaigns working to end MTR and culminating all the learning from our trip. We will be partnered with the RReNEW Collective of Mountain Justice, a network of organizations and individuals working to stop MTR, strip mining for coal, and to build a bright future for the Appalachian region.

Unchaining Opportunity: the Intersection of Incarceration and Social Justice

Philadelphia, PA

Did you know that the U.S. has one of the highest documented rates of incarceration in the world? The issues surrounding our prison system intersect with a host of other social justice issues: unemployment, education, racial disparities, LGBTQ* issues, housing, and human rights. We will be working with several organizations, including the Pennsylvania Prison Society, which advocates for a “rational approach to criminal justice issues” and works to provide re-entry programs for the previously incarcerated. During our time in Philadelphia, we will take a multi-faceted approach for learning about problems within the U.S. criminal corrections system and the social justice issues that contribute to crime.

Breaking Boundaries in Health Education: Promoting HIV/AIDS Prevention and Awareness for the Stigmatized in the Richmond Community
Richmond, VA

Did you know that 1 in 5 individuals with HIV infection in the U.S. is unaware of their condition? Eastern Virginia has the highest rate of people living with HIV/AIDS in the state, with over 2,500 people affected in Richmond alone. Working with the Health Outreach Department at the Fan Free Clinic in Richmond, students will help provide services and spread information on HIV/AIDS prevention and awareness within the community. It is essential that individuals coming on this trip are open-minded and understanding, as well as passionate about helping people in socially vulnerable circumstances. This trip will involve working and interacting with individuals in the LGBTQ community, the homeless, recent and current jail inmates, drug rehabilitation clients, and persons living with HIV/AIDS.  Students will explore the challenges imposed on health outreach organizations seeking to provide care and information to at-risk individuals, and understand the larger societal systems that hinder over-looked and stigmatized populations from seeking help and accessing accurate information on HIV/AIDS.