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Since 1993, students have embodied what it means to be a Volunteer by participating in meaningful service in cities across the United States during the university’s Alternative Break trips.

The first Alternative Break group traveled to Homestead, Florida, during the spring of 1993. Since the program began, more than 2,500 students have participated in 130 trips. The value of the service hours invested in these communities is an estimated $1.2 million.

This year, 97 students, faculty, and staff will travel to seven cities to lend a hand for various causes as the program marks its 25th year.

The trips, organized by the Center for Leadership and Service, run Sunday, March 11, through Saturday, March 17. Participants will travel to Chicago; Savannah; Monticello, Iowa; Jackson, Mississippi; Cincinnati; Jacksonville; and Atlanta to work with local agencies in each community.

“The Alternative Break program is one way the university engages students in meaningful and collaborative community service,” said Jessica Wildfire, director of the Center for Leadership and Service. “The service increases the participant’s awareness of social issues and strengthens the communities they serve.”

Students who have participated in the program have gone on to be servant leaders after graduating from UT. Among them: Keith Carver, chancellor of the University of Tennessee at Martin.

Carver participated in a trip during fall break 1993. At the time, the program was called TeamVOLS and was led by the Office of the Dean of Students. Carver was completing his master’s degree in higher education administration and was serving as a co-director of TeamVOLS.

“The Alternative Break trips I helped coordinate certainly got me out of my comfort zone and broadened my understanding of true societal needs,” he said.

During that trip, he traveled with students to Homestead, Florida, to help with relief efforts after Hurricane Andrew. For spring break 1994, Carver traveled with a group to East Hardin, Illinois, to help with relief efforts after one of the most devastating floods in US history.

“I just remember being so blown away by the extensive water damage in Illinois,” he said. “The floods had literally come in and carried homes, farms away. I was equally impressed with the resiliency of the families and communities.”

For spring break 1995, he traveled to Boston to work with innercity youth.

While the original trips began and ended during the school breaks, today’s alternative break experience is much broader. Student participants engage in pre-trip meetings, educational opportunities, and post-trip reorientation events.

“We believe adding these additional components to the program encourages students to continue developing as leaders for our campus while also engaging them as active citizens in the Knoxville community when they return,” said Wildfire. “Our hope is that students take on the lifelong commitment to serving their community wherever that may be, and the program is just the launching point for that engagement.”


Katherine Saxon (, 865-974-8365)