Alternative Breaks – Fall 2014

By Kristen Aquilino, International Career Fellow

This past weekend was Fall Break at Elon. Students had a four-day weekend to go home, travel, rest, catch up on assignments, and, for those who stayed, to enjoy the quiet that envelops campus.

For those students who look for something different from typical break activities, the Kernodle Center organizes Alternative Breaks during the fall, winter, and spring. It is a wonderful program that fosters a variety of opportunities for students to engage with communities (both domestic and international) through service learning. Each break is entirely planned by student coordinators who demonstrate incredible leadership and take the reins with organizing the break from start to finish.

For this past round of programs, Danielle and I each served as advisors for an Alternative Breaks program and we’re excited to share a bit about these experiences with you!

Educational Disparities – Boys and Girls Club, Pembroke, NC

Yesterday afternoon I returned from a trip to Pembroke, North Carolina that was full of discovery and culture. The focus of our program was to volunteer with the Pembroke Boys and Girls Club of the Lumbee Tribe. The Pembroke area is home to many Lumbee Tribe members and we were privileged to be immersed in their community and to learn about their customs.

This was a first-time Alternative Breaks program. As such, we really didn’t know what to expect… and we could not have asked for a better experience. The Pembroke Boys and Girls Club welcomed us with open arms and what followed were a series of events and activities that encouraged a great deal of learning and reflection.

I could write for ages about all of our experiences such as: attending the 5th Annual Running Water Singers Pow Wow in Fayetteville, going on a buddy hike in Lumber River State Park, visiting the Native American Resource Center on UNC Pembroke’s campus, helping with homework and playing games during the Boys and Girls Club after-school program, and learning traditional Lumbee dances around a drum circle during an evening culture class. The best way I can think to sum up some of the most important takeaways is through an exercise inspired by the student coordinators of the program: the Rose, Thorn, and Bud activity.

On our last night in Pembroke, we went around in a circle sharing our Rose (a positive experience or special memory), Thorn (something difficult or challenging), and Bud (a lesson or source of inspiration that you can take with you into the future) from the break. It is a wonderful way to reflect on both short- and long-term experiences! Each group member had thoughtful and insightful comments to contribute, and here are some of my reflections:


While we were preparing for the arrival of the boys and girls for their afterschool activities, one of the staff members from the club was providing “tricks of the trade” and helpful background information. What took us all aback was the gratitude that she expressed for our being there at the Boys and Girls Club. It was deeply heartfelt and genuine regardless of our being there for such a short time. It pricked like a thorn for me by being a potent reminder of the importance of gratitude and how meaningful it is to express it… especially having the message come from someone who dedicates a great deal of her time to working with the youth in the area. It was a wake-up call to always practice gratitude and to recognize all of the reasons that many of us have to be thankful.


Another member of the staff expressed his thanks for our being there and emphasized just how necessary it was for the boys and girls from the area to connect with those different from themselves, and to be encouraged to try new things and challenge their thinking. It is easy to forget how important it is to share your knowledge and experience with children in need of strong mentors… something to think about!


The Elon students who participated in the program. All of the students in the group were truly inspiring with their open minds, open hearts, and willingness to jump into any situation with respect, curiosity, and positivity. I learned a great deal from them and am thrilled to have been a part of their adventure!


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