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Penn State Alternative Breaks

The Penn State Alternative Breaks (PSAB) program provides a variety of opportunities for students to learn more about themselves, others, and the world around them, through service. Our program includes trips throughout the year take place over university breaks: Fall Service Weekends (FSW), Fall Alternative Breaks (FAB), Alternative Winter Breaks (AWB), Spring Service Weekend (SSW), and Alternative Spring Breaks (ASB). Each program is designed to encourage personal growth, promote civic engagement, and enrich the lives of participants by immersing them in a new community around issues of social justice.

If interested in learning more, contact our Executive Director at

Our Mission

PSAB facilitates student-led service trips throughout the academic year focused on promoting social justice, fostering active citizenship, and building community.


With the support of the Office of Student Activities and the Student Initiated Fee we are able to make trips affordable to students at only $25.00 for service weekends, $75.00 for FAB and $100.00 for AWB and ASB. This fee covers the cost of food, housing, transportation, and registration for our community partner organizations. If funding is barrier for you to participate, please contact Heather Veale for a possible fee waiver.

2019 -2020 Trips

Full trip descriptions listed in drop-downs below

You may be required to sign a waiver to be able to participate in PSAB service trips

Fall Service Weekends

Fall Service Weekends

  • Trip 1: October 11-13, 2019
    • Applications available September 3 – 13, 2019
    • Interviews by appointment
    • Mandatory Orientation week of September 23
    • Registration Fee of $25 due October 7
  • Trip 2: November 8-10, 2019
    • Applications available now until October 13. Apply for the November Weekend trip.
    • Interviews by appointment
    • Mandatory Orientation week of October 20
    • Registration Fee of $25 due November 1


Trip 1 - Fighting for Fresh Food: A Look at Food Inequity

Food insecurity and inequity represents a major burden among low income individuals around the United States. The organization we will partner with focuses on creating a sustainable and community-centered food system that provides support to under-resourced black and brown communities. Students on this trip will have the chance to work with local community gardens that enhance the ability of people living in the city to access healthy, fresh, and affordable food. Participants will engage and work with members of the community throughout their service.


Trip 2 -The Art of Advocacy: Pittsburgh Weekend Trip

Join us on a service and learning trip this November in Pittsburgh, PA, to join in the conversation of community advocacy, allyship, and mobilization. We will be working with the organization 1hood to discuss how social justice and activism can be interpreted through the lens of expression. Through our community partners, we will explore the different methods of both addressing inequity in a community and empowering members to demand change.

Fall Alternative Break (FAB)

Fall Alternative Break

  • Applications available until October 3, 2019 at 11:59pm. Apply for Fall Alternative Break.
  • Interview Day October 6 in 302 HUB
  • Mandatory Orientation October 13,  5:00-7:00pm in 134 HUB
  • Trip November 22-26, 2019
    • Registration Fee of $75 Due November 1

Far From Home: A Look into Immigration

On this trip, participants will have the opportunity to explore the challenges associated with immigration in America. Through in-depth looks at the stories of immigrants and immersion into the community, students will learn more about the programs and resources available to this population, Immigration & Customs Enforcement (I.C.E), and how the media influences our perception of immigrants. By the end of the trip, students will have a better understanding of immigration and will understand the crucial role that immigrants play in American society.

Housing the Keys to a Secure Future: Investigating Housing Access and Food Security

Thousands of individuals throughout the United States battle the growing issue of poverty and gentrification every second of their lives. Throughout this four-day trip, we will investigate the factors that influence housing access and food security, and how these elements influence our site and major cities around the country. Trip members will contribute to the community by partnering with organizations that strive to provide housing amenities for local residents. They will also work alongside organizations that strive to alleviate hunger in the area. By the end of our journey, participants will develop the skills to make an impact in their hometowns, in the Penn State community, and throughout the world.

Mental Health in the U.S.: Equity in Access to Resources

Roughly one third of the homeless population in the U.S. suffers from an untreated mental illness. Throughout this four-day trip, participants will gain an understanding of the intersections of mental health and socioeconomic status. With limited access to resources for mental health, underserved communities find local support efforts. During our trip we will immerse ourselves in the community through working with these organizations, while learning firsthand how these services assist people in need and allow them to empower themselves.

Environmentally Just?: Pollution and Its Effects

Do you care about people’s access to clean water and air? This trip will explore the topic of environmental justice in a location that has been affected by excessive amounts of pollution by supporting and volunteering for a community-based organization, working with an urban farm, interacting with local residents and learning from the different communities affected. Participants will gain valuable insights into the issue of environmental justice that they can bring back to their home communities. 

The Urban Classroom: Geography’s Effects on Young Learners

Does everyone have the same opportunity to the education they deserve? Spend your fall break reflecting upon this question as you learn about an elementary/middle school in an under resourced area. Explore the education system in America through tutoring, classroom activities, and student engagement. This trip will reflect upon the impact of place on young learners and the ways in which you can make a positive influence in the education system.

Fostering Support: Access to Resources for LGBTQ+ Youth

Are you interested in issues impacting the LGBTQ youth community? This trip will allow participants to come to understand how factors such as housing, mentorship, counseling and healthcare impact LGBTQ youth. This trip will be very hands-on; cleaning facilities, and working directly with a community partner engaged with the community.  We strive to create an inclusive environment where students are able to learn, grow, and serve with open minds and open hearts. Join us in learning from this community, and creating meaningful relationships through service.

Alternative Winter Break (AWB)

Alternative Winter Break

  • Applications available October 11-October 27, 2019. Apply for an Alternative Winter Break.
  • Interviews by appointment
  • Mandatory Orientation November 3, 5:00-7:00pm in 131 HUB
  • Trip January 4-11, 2020
    • Registration Fee of $100 Due November 15

Trip 1 - Erasing the Stigma: Juvenile Criminal Justice
Join us as we work with a State Department of Juvenile Justice to assist and empower incarcerated youth. We will spend the week mentoring and supporting young adults as they work to take the next step in their lives. Help us as we engage with an overlooked segment of our population. We will learn more about the juvenile justice system in the United States, how it intersects with race and discrimination, and systemic risk factors that fuel the prison pipeline.


Trip 2 - Civil Rights: Where
Do you want to learn more about race in America? Participants on this trip will develop a deeper understanding of our nation's complicated history with equality, modern racial issues, and how to better engage with diverse groups of people. You will have the opportunity to volunteer with a nonprofit organization that promotes nonviolent strategies for conflict resolution as we serve in a city that played an integral part in the civil rights movement.

Alternative Spring Break (ASB)

Alternative Spring Break

  • Applications available December 6, 2019 -January 19, 2020 through this link.
  • Interview day January 26 in 302 HUB
  • Mandatory Orientation February 2 in Flex Theater
  • Trip March 7-14, 2020
    • Registration Fee of $100 Due February 21

Trip 1 - Building the Heartland: Housing Security in the Rural U.S.

How is housing security impacted in rural areas? Participants will gain deeper insights into challenges facing rural communities through spending a week assisting with housing repair in an Appalachian town, attending local community events, and engaging in reflective conversations with other group members. If you have an interest in service that involves your hands, heart, and mind, this is the trip for you. There will be on-site training, so no prior construction experience is needed!

Trip 2 - It IS Easy Being Green: Environmental Justice and Everyday Stewardship

“The earth can live without humans, but humans cannot live without the earth.” Cars, pizza, overpriced textbooks- they all come from the bounty of our natural environment. What happens, though, when our growth causes challenges for our waterways, climate, and air? Further, who bears the majority of the burdens? That is right, environmental problems are also questions of justice. Through daily service projects ranging from urban tree planting to environmental cleanups and educational workshops regarding littering and waste reduction, participants will help care for the planet and gain a deeper understanding of the causes of environmental degradation, who it disproportionately affects, and ways to move forward.

Trip 3 - Driving Progress Forward: Urban Intersections of Poverty

Join us as we learn about how nonprofits are supporting their most vulnerable communities in order to ensure that residents experiencing homelessness have access to affordable food and housing. Those who experience homelessness often experience systemic barriers around mobility, income, and race that limit them in obtaining these resources. Work with these nonprofits to understand the community’s role in combating food insecurity and homelessness. Service projects may include working in urban gardens, food banks, and homeless shelters. 

Trip 4 - An Introduction to Compassionate Living: Animal Rights & Welfare

The true mark of a society is one that cares for the most vulnerable- the elderly, the sick, children, and animals. Animals feel pain, fear, frustration, loneliness, and motherly love. Invest your week learning about what a small farm does in order to combat the issues of industrial farming. You’ll spend your time connecting to protected animals on a farm, learning about sustainable farming approaches, and seeing what it means to live in community with one another.

Trip 5 - Fighting for Fresh Food: A Look at Food Inequity

Food insecurity and inequity represents a major burden among low-income individuals around the United States. The organization we will partner with focuses on creating a sustainable and community-centered food system that provides support to under-resourced black and brown communities. Students on this trip will have the chance to work with local community gardens that enhance the ability of people living in the city to access healthy, fresh, and affordable food. Participants will engage and work with members of the community throughout their service.

Trip 6 - An American Dream Deferred: Understanding Educational Opportunity

Leave Penn State’s classrooms for those of an elementary school! Spend spring break exploring America’s education system in an underserved area. Through tutoring and classroom activities, you’ll have the opportunity to build connections with students. This trip will reflect upon the impact of place on young learners and the ways in which you can make a positive influence. 

Trip 7 - Redefining Ability: Inclusivity in Practice

“Abled does not mean enabled. Disabled does not mean less abled.” - Khang Kijarro Nguyen. How do we define ability in today’s world? How can we be inclusive of all ability levels? By working in a dynamic community alongside adults with developmental disabilities, you can experience firsthand what it means to truly value the work of all individuals. Through farming, gardening, and handcrafted activities around a beautiful site, you can create a mutually beneficial experience between yourself and the residents, while considering the framing of disability in American society.

Trip 8 - Community First: Combating Homelessness & Food Insecurity

What are the main barriers to food and housing security? Participants will work with our community partner to build connections with people experiencing homelessness and draw a greater understanding of this multifaceted issue. The organization we work with is dedicated to serving the homeless and food insecure in the community by connecting with multiple churches, an urban farm, and a food bank, as well as running a traveling shower trailer for the local community. Participants on this trip will stay at a local church and be truly integrated into the community!

Trip 9 - Eye of the Storm: Unpacking Inequalities in Natural Disasters

Recent hurricanes have left families and communities devastated throughout the country in their wakes. Homes and businesses were affected by high-speed winds and rising waters, loss of power and resources, and damage to houses and buildings. This has created a struggle to rebuild infrastructure and has left communities still in a trail of destruction. Communities of lower socioeconomic status often receive limited coverage by insurance companies and are left under-resourced. We are dedicated to serving these families and communities throughout the recovery process.

Trip 10 - Refugee Resettlement: Supporting a Growing Community

Given the current public debate over Refugee Resettlement and immigration, we believe in facilitating an environment where participants can meet and serve first hand with people who’ve been displaced from their home countries. Participants will assist in English classes, vocational classes, and donation centers which allow recent refugee families to gain the necessities to begin building a new life in America. By building relationships with local community members and reflecting on their experiences trip participants will gain deeper insight into the persistence and nuance inherent in the refugee story. 

Trip 11 - Sustaining Growth: A look at Rural Poverty

What are the economic, social, and environmental challenges that come with living in an under-resourced rural area? Rural Appalachia faces unique challenges. Left behind following the decline of the coal industry, many of these areas struggle to achieve sustainable economic development. On this trip, participants will have the opportunity to learn about the history of a coal-mining region, take part in environmental restoration, assist at a homeless shelter, and more!

Spring Service Weekend

Spring Service Weekend

  • Application available February 7 – February 23, 2020
  • Interviews by appointment
  • Mandatory orientation week of March 2
  • Trip dates March 27-29, 2020
    • Registration fee $25 due March 20

Trip description will be posted before applications open February 7, 2020.

Leadership Opportunities

Site Leaders

Alternative Breaks also offers leadership opportunities for students interested in being a Site Leader for a trip. Along with your Co-Site Leader, you will facilitate discussions, organize activities and service, and handle all logistics with support from our PSAB Board. You do not have to have been on a service trip before to apply. Other responsibilities include:

  • Meeting weekly leading up to your trip
  • Participating in a weekend training retreat, including training from Break Away, the national Alternative Breaks organization
  • Developing social justice education for participants, educating yourself on your assigned topic before teaching participants about it
  • Maintaining relationships with participants individually and as a group – including hosting at least three meetings leading up to your trip
  • Maintaining relationships with Community Partner sites we serve with
  • Maintaining relationships with our Learning Partners, faculty/staff who attend trips

Site Leader Applications

                Fall Alternative Break/Alternative Winter Break– LIVE NOW until April 19, 2020. Apply to be a Site Leader

               Alternative Spring Break – FULL (recruitment in November)

PSAB Board

Alternative Breaks is a program coordinated through the Office of Student Activities and a board of Penn State students who have been part of PSAB as a participant and/or Site Leader. Currently, there are seven positions on the board, Executive Director (1), Site Development Director (4), Public Relations Director (1), Communications Director (1).

Responsibilities include:

  • Meeting weekly as a Board and at Site Leader training meetings.
  • Attending a Board training modeled after an Alternative Break trip.
  • Coordinating all trips including choosing and training site leaders, developing sites in a variety of locations with various social justice topics present, recruitment, public relations, and any all trip activities such as Orientation 1 and Reorientation following the trips.
  • Being a positive representative for the Alternative Breaks program at the university and in the community.
  • All duties as assigned by the individual position.

Applications for the Board will be released immediately following spring break and are only available to past Site Leaders or Participants.

If you have any questions please reach out to our Executive Director at

Faculty & Staff Partners

Each Alternative Break trip has a faculty or staff person who attends the trip with them as a Learning Partner. These partnerships are essential to providing strong and safe learning opportunities for students. Learning Partners attend the trip at no cost, and participate in daily service, educational, and reflection activities. Other duties during the trip include:

  • Driving a University owned 15passenger van or mini-van
  • Signing out a University purchasing card for food and activities during the trip
  • Supporting student Site Leaders with conflict resolution and difficult conversations
  • Sharing any social justice knowledge about the topic students are working with
  • Assisting in any emergency situations and assessing risk
  • Having fun with students while learning and engaging in the community

If you are interested in becoming a learning partner for one of this year's programs, please apply via the qualtrics survey. The priority deadline for trips in the 2019-2020 academic year is September 30th.

If you have any questions before applying please contact Heather Veale ( for more information.

** you may be required to sign a waiver to participate

***please speak with your supervisor before applying as you will need to be working during the trip and will not be able to complete other work tasks during the trip. You must have full-time exempt status to apply.


FAQs for Alternative Breaks trips

What does the process look like for applying to an Alternative Break?

There are separate application processes for fall, winter, and spring break trips. Participants will fill out an application and then, if selected to move on, will be asked to interview for the program. During Interviews, participants will learn more about the trips, do group activities, and be pulled out individually to answer quick questions with Site Leaders for the trips. This process is done to best achieve diverse trips with multiple perspectives, identities, and years in school that will provide a strong learning environment for everyone involved.

How many people go on trips?

Our trips will have no more than 12 people each. Typically, there are two student Site Leaders for each trip, and then one or two faculty/staff that attend trips as Learning Partners driving a university vehicle, handling the budget, and being there for emergency purposes. We typically get many more applications than there are spots, so we create a waitlist and if someone drops from a trip, we will work to fill it with someone on the waitlist.

What will we be eating throughout the week?

Some Community Partners include meals during your trip and others require that we cook our own food...either way you will be able to share any dietary restrictions/preferences that you have with your Site Leaders, and we will accommodate them to the best of our ability. For groups cooking your own meals, you will work together as a team to come up with a menu for the trip. If there are specialty items you need (like you want red bull to drink or only eat a specific kind of granola bar) please plan to bring those items yourself. Our food budget is based on $10 per person/day and living modestly. This covers nutritious meals, minimal snacks, and occasionally a meal in a restaurant. You will not be permitted to run to Starbucks or go grab fast food throughout the week. There may be an opportunity for those things on your community immersion day, but plan to bring with you specialty snacks or just rough it for the one week.

Will there be time for me to do homework during the trip?

Your schedule is going to be very busy throughout the trip. There is not much downtime or free time. After reflection in the evenings, you will have time for showers and everything before bedtime, but this is typically a time where participants are hanging out, getting to know everyone better, and journaling. If you have a large project/paper/deadline that is coming up immediately after the trip please plan accordingly as you won’t have much time, if any, to work on those things during the trip.

What does a typical day on Alternative Breaks look like?

The days are going to be long. Expect to be up early, sometimes needing to be at your service site by 7:30 or 8:00 a.m. Usually, you will do service for most of the workday, breaking for lunch, and then everyone will eat dinner together. Following dinner, there will be time to reflect about the day, processing what service you did and what you have learned. Again, there is not much free time throughout the trip except in the early morning hours and after reflection in the evenings, so please plan accordingly.

Will there be time for me to explore the area during the trip?

Each trip has some built-in “free time” during the experience. This time has traditionally been so that we can explore museums and learn about the local community more. This time is not designed for you to go shopping, visit friends, or for you to explore on your own. You will be required to be with at least one other person at all times and will likely be asked to stay as a group as well. Each trip decides what their community immersion time will look like, but this isn’t an opportunity to plan something special to do during the trip. Reach out to your Site Leaders if there is something specific you are hoping to see and they may be able to fit it into the trip.

Do I have to sign a waiver to participate?

Yes, you will be required to sign waivers from the University, from the Penn State Alternative Breaks program, and potentially from your Community Partner sites. In order to participate, you will have to sign these waivers. Please read the documents carefully before signing. We also have a photography waiver in order to take pictures and use for promotion for the PSAB program.

I am having difficulty/am unable to pay for my trip. What do I do?

We have financial assistance available to participants on a case by case basis. Please email our Program Advisor - Matt Barone  to set up an appointment to talk about any difficulty you may be having. We offer payment plans, lessening payments, or complete fee waivers.

I live near our Community Partner site, can I just stay there after the break?

We understand that some of you may live nearby where you are doing service over the break. The Office of Student Activities has an Alternate Transportation Waiver that you will need to fill out if you plan to not take the transportation provided back to State College with the group. You will need to provide information on how you plan to get to home (or wherever you are going) this would include information about who may be picking you up, what time is your bus/plane/train and how are you planning to get there. We will not be able to drop you off at the train station, etc. so please plan accordingly.

My family/friends live near our Community Partner site, can I visit them during the trip?

There will not be time on the trip to visit local friends and family in the area you are serving. There may be an opportunity to invite someone to have dinner with the group, but this should be discussed with Site Leaders before the start of the trip. There is a very tight schedule and each individual is required to be actively participating throughout, which also means no taking a break from service to visit friends/family.

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