Mizzou Alternative Breaks: New Name, Same Life-Altering Experience

Group of volunteers in front of a mountain vista

Four years ago Theresa Mullineaux’s could not have imagined her senior year would include managing over 840 students in community service endeavors, renaming one of Mizzou’s proudest programs as it doubled in size, or pioneering a sustainable partnership between Mizzou and five other SEC schools focused on leadership through service.

As a freshman, Mullineaux was searching for a meaningful way to spend her spring break. She applied for Alternative Spring Break, was accepted, and traveled to Charleston, South Carolina to work with children with disabilities.

Now a senior, she is the executive director of Mizzou Alternative Breaks (MAB), overseeing all trips offered by the program.

“My freshman year, I thought it would be cool to travel for a week,” says Mullineaux, who is from St. Louis. “I just took it so much at face value. It wasn’t until the trip that I realized this is really important and we should be educating others on these issues.”

This year, the Executive Board voted to change the name from Alternative Spring Break to Mizzou Alternative Breaks to better encompass everything the program now offers.

In collaboration with six other student board members, a graduate assistant and adviser Bryan Goers, Mullineaux has transformed Alternative Spring Break into Mizzou Alternative Breaks, a competitive program sending students on trips across the country for community service during their breaks.

In 2010, the program had eight spring break trips. Fast-forward four years to 2014 when 69 trips took place, including over Thanksgiving break and winter break, two international trips and a weekend trip.

It is no longer one-week of service, but a year’s worth of opportunities for Mizzou students to serve.

“Over the past four years, there’s really been a culture shift at Mizzou to be more service-oriented,” Mullineaux says. “I think MAB has really helped with that. The program has grown in numbers, but the people in the program have also grown personally.”

Like Mullineaux, other students have moved from participant to site-leader to Executive Board members. The opportunities for students to become more involved in the program and continue participating year after year has fueled a passion in students that has led to the program’s success.

It is more than just service. Students learn about the issues their trips focus on, as well as other issues that affect the United States in general. The MAB program encourages participants to bring that knowledge back and educate the rest of the MU community.

“This program at Mizzou is fostering a sustainable model,” Mullineaux says. “When people go on our trips, they realize that it’s not just a week of service; it’s a week of growth. It’s through that growth experience that students want to become more and more involved.”

This year’s orientation retreat for spring break participants had to be held in Jesse Auditorium in order to accommodate the large number of students.

While growth is a sign of a successful program and a selfless student body, there are challenges that come with the sudden expansion, such as accommodating all of the students who want to participate.

“We have to turn away about half the people who apply for the program because we don’t have the capability to have all those trips,” says Mullineaux. “It’s sad because you don’t want to turn away someone who wants to spend their spring break doing service.”

With already 140 site leaders, the board is working to continue expansion so more students can be involved in this unique movement. As the program itself grows, Mullineaux notes that the growth of each participant is what impresses her the most.

“The fact that the program is growing is a true testament to the university and how incredible the students are here,” Mullineaux says.

MAB is a developmental program led by students for students. Participants learn from other students who are site leaders, and site leaders learn from students who on the board.

“On the board of directors, we even learn from each other because we’re all students,” Mullineaux says. “It’s a very good program that develops student-leaders.”

Mullineaux beams with pride as she explains the ins and outs of MAB.

“I’ve been involved with Mizzou Alternative Breaks since October of my freshman year and now it’s going to be over,” she says. “I’ll feel really empty, but it’s been a really good experience all four years.”

After one year as a participant, two years as a site leader and one year as Executive Director, Mullineaux is saddened to hand over the reigns but excited to see what the future holds for MAB.