I want to thank Joe Miller, who wrote an excellent article on KU Alternative Breaks (Journal-World, Aug. 14). I would like to provide an additional perspective.
Kansas University was described as “one of the first universities to establish an alternative break program.” It was begun by Jennifer Ford, a Lawrence KU student, who participated in an Alternative Break to New Mexico sponsored by Ecumenical Christian Ministries at KU in spring of 1992. She was encouraged to initiate a similar program through the KU Center for Community Outreach, which she did in 1993. Jennifer Ford Reedy is now co-chair of the KU Honors Program Advisory Board.
ECM has continued offering alternative trips during winter, spring and summer breaks. During the 2009-10 academic term, ECM sponsored trips to Appalachia, where the culture was introduced to the participants along with the issue of mountaintop coal extraction. In Imokalee, Fla., students supported the Immokalee Workers in their efforts to increase by 1 cent per pound the price of tomatoes picked in the fields.
Chicago was the site for experiencing the plight of Spanish-speaking migrants. This break was a “follow-up” to a summer break with “No More Deaths in Arizona,” during the previous summer. Also in Arizona, in the spring, students lived with a Navajo family on the high desert and learned of the Navajo culture and high desert agriculture. In New Mexico, participants continue to go every spring and are introduced to the unique culture near Abiqui (not Albuquerque) northwest of Santa Fe. The area was made famous by the paintings of Georgia O’Keefe, but is also one of the poorest counties in the United States. In total, over 50 participants were involved in all the breaks.
In all of these experiences, there was an important component. The participants set aside time for “praxis,” reflection on their experiences. This has proven to be integral to the time spent, often, in a different culture. The trip therefore offers an experience of “solidarity” with those they meet at the site. The ECM trips are open to all faith traditions and those who do not identify with one. Many of them are intergenerational, one having an age range of 19-75. They are all student-coordinated. Some trips have as many as 15; others, seven.
In the evaluations, comments are often made regarding some clarity gained in vocation/career discernment, and questions are raised about the predominant culture, questions that are asked of their peers and in the classroom. The Alternative Trips therefore become service learning opportunities.
Above all, it is to the credit of students who “risk” going on these trips. These students have a sense of compassion, not in a sentimental way, but in a way that nurtures their challenging conventional wisdom and being involved in the “common good” for society and care for the earth.
— Thad Holcombe is campus pastor for ECM at KU.