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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 three different times a year and they take place over university breaks: Fall Alternative Breaks (FAB), Alternative Winter Breaks (AWB) 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, check out our student-run site at or contact our Executive Director at

Our Mission

Penn State Alternative Breaks, as a function of the Office of Student Activities, promotes active citizenship through education, direct community engagement, and reflection.


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 $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 Matt Barone for a possible fee waiver.

2018 -2019 Trips

*full trip descriptions listed in drop-downs below

Fall Alternative Break

  • Applications available September 16th - 30th
  • Interview Day October 7th
  • Mandatory Orientation October 14th 6-8pm in Flex
  • Trip November 16-20th 2018
    • Registration Fee of $75 Due October 28th

Alternative Winter Break

  • Applications available September 30th-October 14th  
  • Interviews by appointment
  • Mandatory Orientation October 28th 6-8pm in 131 HUB
  • Trip December 15-22nd
    • Registration Fee of $100 Due November 16th

ASB Site Leader Applications

Alternative Spring Break

  • Applications available November 30th - January 10th at 12:00pm
  • Interview day January 13th
  • Mandatory Meeting January 20th
  • Trip March 2-9th 2019
    • Registration Fee of $100 Due February 1st

**You may be required to sign a waiver to be able to participate

Alternative Spring Weekend

  • Application available January 31 - February 13 at 11:59 pm
  • Interview days February 21 and 22
  • Mandatory orientation week of March 10-14
  • Trip dates March 15-17
    • Registration fee $25 due March 13
Fall Alternative Break (FAB)

Fall Alternative Break

  • Applications available September 16th - 30th
  • Interview Day October 7th
  • Mandatory Orientation October 14th 6-8pm in Flex
  • Trip November 16-20th 2018
    • Registration Fee of $75 Due October 28th

The following is a list of our trips for the fall break. Locations for trips will be revealed at the first Orientation on October 14th 6pm in Flex Theatre – HUB-Robeson Center. Apply Now until September 30th at 11:59pm

Trip 1: Falling Right into Service: Exploring the Topic of Mental Health Amongst Underserved Communities

One third of the homeless population in the U.S. suffers from an untreated mental illness. Unfortunately, this number has been steadily growing in rural communities, which means more people are in need of treatment and resources to improve their health and well-being. Throughout this trip, we will strive to understand the impacts of mental illnesses amongst low income communities and ways we can make a positive impact in the lives of those we serve. On this trip participants will have the opportunity to work with adults and youth battling mental illnesses, volunteer in a community food pantry and interact with community members. From this trip, participants will receive the opportunity to further explore how mental illnesses affect our population in the U.S. and learn ways in which they can become active within their own communities to serve those in need.

Trip 2: Exploring and Expanding LGBT Healthcare Access and Awareness

We will be working with an LGBT youth center whose mission is to expand access to healthcare, employment, housing, family services, counseling, and many other resources. This trip will be very hands-on; cleaning facilities, working directly with LGBT youth, and more! There will be lots of educational opportunities before and during the trip to allow for personal exploration within this topic and others related to the LGBT community, and lots of opportunity for involvement after the trip as well.

Trip 3: Combatting Adversity and Breaking Down the Label of ‘Poverty’

Our alternative break trip will explore the effects of poverty in the formative years of one’s life and how it can create adverse situations leading into adulthood. Participants will experience an immersion within a vibrant community, where they will focus attention on adequate nutrition, increasing education, advocacy, and breaking down the labels that surround poverty. Throughout our four days working with our community partners, participants will have the opportunity to assist with art class creations, serve meals, understand the structural constraints to healthy living, and experience adventures alongside community members. Upon return, participants will have gained insights in how to tackle these issues in the State College area and bring their skill sets to their own communities. Our full immersion alternative break allows participants to lose themselves within the work and create memories that will last a lifetime.

Trip 4: Protecting Plants, People, and Profits

Lower-income areas and communities of color are often exposed to far greater environmental hazards than other groups. Environmental justice promotes the simple idea that everyone deserves equal rights to clean water, clean air, and resources that do not cause adverse effects on their health and wellbeing. Participants going on this trip will learn about environmental racism and justice, sacrifice zones, urban gardening, and toxic environmental hazards by going on tours of facilities and working at an urban farm. They will also have the opportunity to interact with local residents by serving meals at homeless and transition shelters as well as working with local elementary schools.

Trip 5: Listen & Learn- An Urban Lesson on Housing Access & Food Security

Many residents of major cities in the United States have to face the growing issue of poverty and increasing income inequality gaps, fighting to maintain their health and well-being. Throughout this trip we will strive to address the causes of homelessness, the prevalence of the topic within our location and society as a whole, and ways in which we can make a positive contribution toward a self-sustaining lifestyle for members of the community. Participants can expect to become immersed in urban culture and community- serving hot meals, interacting with people of different backgrounds, and engaging in educational workshops. By the end of the trip, individuals will have a greater insight on the current state of homelessness as well as what action steps one can take to make a difference.

Trip 6: The Urban Classroom: Geography’s Effects on Young Learners

Leave Penn State’s classrooms for those of an elementary school! Spend fall 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.

Alternative Winter Break (AWB)

Alternative Winter Break

  • applications available September 30th-October 14th  
  • Interviews by appointment
  • Mandatory Orientation October 28th 6-8pm in 131 HUB
  • Trip December 15-22nd
    • Registration Fee of $100 Due November 16th


The following is a list of our trips for the winter break. Locations for trips will be revealed at the first Orientation on October 28th, 6pm in Flex Theatre – HUB-Robeson Center.

Trip 1: Pulling apart the Prison Pipeline: Assisting Juveniles in the Criminal Justice System

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 Revisited: Understanding Race in Modern America

This winter we will head to a city known pivotally for its involvement in the American Civil Rights Movement. We plan to retrace the steps of prominent Civil Rights leaders, interview Foot Soldiers (individuals who participated in the Civil Rights Movement decades ago), partake in non-violence trainings, and address present and future community issues by engaging in direct service activities. We will also plan to partner with a local organization that’s ultimate mission is to preserve the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. By exploring and discussing the past, present, and future forms of U.S. race relations, we hope to better understand how race shapes and influences our lives at both an individual and collective level. Our only caveat for interested applicants is that this trip will be much more discussion-oriented than labor-intensive. Be mindful of your motivations when applying.

Alternative Spring Break (ASB)


Alternative Spring Break

  • Applications available November 30th - January 10th at 12:00pm
  • Interview day January 13th
  • Trip March 2-9th 2019
    • Registration Fee of $100 Due February 1st
Building the Heartland: Rural Poverty in America

What are the economic, social, and environmental challenges that come with living in a under-resourced rural area? What happens when sturdy housing becomes harder to come by? Participants will gain deeper insights into these questions through spending a week assisting with housing repair in a rural town for a family in need, 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!

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 comes 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.


Fair Food for All: Farmworkers Rights & Community Organizing

“My mom always said life was like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get”- Forrest Gump. While very true, did you ever consider where the ingredients for those chocolates came from? How were the farmworkers treated? Did they receive a fair wage? Participants will learn from and serve with several non-profit organizations that are working to ensure just living conditions and salaries for farm workers across the country. While there will be service work that may include harvesting crops and assisting with community art projects, a good part of the trip will involve meeting with various stakeholders to learn more about how they are working for improve labor rights and eliminate modern day slavery in agriculture.


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.


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. Factory farms limit animals’ in their ability to express normal behaviors, breed with intent to maximize weight gain and milk production, and restrict outdoor access. Invest your week learning about what a small farm does in order to combat the issues that the industry promotes. You’ll spend your time connecting to protected animals on a farm by helping with duties such as milking cows, assisting in oxen training, laying straw, and cuddling the cows.


Revitalization for Who: Development in Urban Environments

What is meant by “urban revitalization”? Who and what do decision makers prioritize when inciting change in a community? By fully immersing yourself in a new city, you can look for answers to some of these questions. Through direct service and community involvement at nonprofits and other local organizations, such as refugee centers and senior care facilities, understand how development impacts an entire community, and your own personal role as an agent of change.


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.


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.


Honoring Tradition and Advocating for our Futures

Although many of us think about Native Americans only when reading our history books, there are vibrant Native communities living and growing throughout America right now. However, like many other minority group in our country, their interests are often ignored in public policy and many indigenous people must struggle against inequality in all sectors of their lives. By serving in this community participants will be granted a small window into the strengths and struggles of the native community. They will learn to better understand how to stand with and advocate for Indigenous peoples, particularly in Modern day America.


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.


Community First: Combatting Homelessness & Food Insecurity

What are the main barriers to food and housing security? Setting aside the larger societal impact of homelessness, how does unreliable housing affect the individual? As participants will work with our community partner they will be able 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 travelling shower trailer for the local community. Participants on this trip will stay at a local church and be truly integrated into the community!

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– FULL (recruitment in March/April)

               Alternative Spring Break – LIVE November 11th – 25th 2018

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), Outreach 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 years Alternative Breaks trips over fall, winter, or spring break, please fill out the following interest survey at and someone will be in contact with you soon to set up a time to meet in person and answer any questions you have before agreeing to become a partner.

  • Fall Trip Deadline to Apply – September 30th
  • Winter Trip Deadline to Apply – October 31st
  • Spring trip partners still needed

If you have any questions before applying please contact Matt Barone ( 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.


FAQ's 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 the 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 down time or free time. After reflection in the evenings, you will have time for showers and everything before bed time, 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 8am. Usually you will do service for most of the work day, 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 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.