There is no limit to the change you can bring to our world.

If you’re educated about the social issues we face, and if you get to know the individuals for whom those issues are reality, you’re an alternative breaker. If you reflect on how that knowledge and those experiences inform your values and your life choices, you’ll be changed forever. That’s active citizenship.





Western Oregon University’s Alternative Break Program connects students with transformative hands-on experiences. WOU students partner with volunteer and community organizations to make a tangible difference throughout our local and global communities.



Students gain important insights such as:

    • The value of heightened social awareness
    • The importance of lifelong active citizenship
    • The promotion of advocacy of social change within communities


2019/2020 Team



Applications are closed

If you are interested in receiving emails about future AB Experiences please email

Two teams will be serving during Spring Break 2020. Learn more about their focus areas below.


Migrant Communities

As a team, students will volunteer with community partners who are actively empowering migrant communities in building capacity to reduce inequity of social protections. This is a week-long immersive service experience that engages students on topics of: promoting peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, providing access to justice for all, and building effective, accountable, and inclusive institutions at all levels.

(Sustainable Development Goal: #16 Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions)

Women Empowerment

As a team, students will volunteer with community partners who are empowering and supporting women from diverse backgrounds to work towards healthier communities. This is a week-long immersive service experience that engages students on topics of: promoting equal and inclusive societies, discussing social inequalities, social norms and attitudes, and providing health opportunities for all.

(Sustainable Development Goals: #3 and #5 Gender Equality and Good Health and Well-Being)


Team Information

When: March 21st-28th, 2020

Cost: $300 per participant. This fee includes administrative cost, meals for the week, and transportation


What comes next?

  • Applications will close on October 20th
  • Team Leaders will review applications and offer positions between November 11th-15th
  • Alternative Break Program Staff will host Orientation and Training. Dates to be announced



Grow through Alternative Break

“The people on those teams became my community, which was what I needed…I loved being actively engaged, getting to see the direct impact of our work. It really helped me get a better understanding of myself and of life.” – Eli Cox ’14


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Grow Personally

  • Get to know a whole different group of people who like to volunteer
  • Learn to work as a team member
  • Challenge yourself to step outside of your comfort zone
  • Expand your knowledge
  • Nice feeling knowing you helped someone
  • Have fun! 


Grow Professionally

  • Adapt to new communication styles
  • Learn to react to different situations
  • Become more civically minded and socially responsible
  • Create new connections with professionals



Be Inspired!

Read about our alternative breakers’ experiences and the impact they have made in their lives and the lives of others.


“I honestly couldn’t be more honored, thankful and blessed to be a part of the Alternative break teams, because it has definitely helped shape me into the person I am today and has changed my outlook on life in positive ways. A special shout out to the Service Learning and Career Development office for this amazing program.” – Poka Matagi ’18 


AB team serving in Honduras building schools with Students Helping Honduras – Winter Break 2016

2019 Graduates

Grad Profile: Caitlyn Nakatsukasa, June 11, 2019

Grad Profile: Daisy Chavez Guzman, June 11, 2019

Grad Profile: Jaide Wa’a, June 11, 2019

Grad Profile: Janie Ramirez Manzo, June 11, 2019

Grad Profile: Tiffany Lewis, June 11, 2019

Grad Profile: Tristan Aldous, June 11, 2019


Prior Graduates

Grad Profile: Javier Garcia, WOU Stories, June 17, 2018

Grad Profile: Efrain Quevedo-Ramos, WOU Stories, June 17, 2018

Grad Profile: Ann Marie “Poka” Matagi, WOU Stories, June 13, 2018

Grad Profile: Kaylyn Taylor, WOU Stories, June 15, 2017

Grad Profile: Laura Miranda, WOU Stories, June 14, 2017

Grad Profile: Shay Guyton, WOU Stories, June 10, 2016

Julia McCulloch Smith Award: Grad Profile: Kylie M. Roth ’15, WOU Stories, June 14, 2015


News Stories

Feature: WOU Services Provide Support for Non-Traditional Students, WOU Stories, November 4, 2017

Public health alum Eli Cox prescribes an ounce of prevention, WOU Stories, January 23, 2017




In the News!


AB team volunteered with a preschool in Costa Rica – Winter Break 2017

WOU in the World, Western Edge, 

Chichester college students take a trip of a lifetime to USA, November 15, 2013

WOU program earns praise, Polk County Itemizer-Observer, March 24, 2010

Local college students pass on beach to volunteer, learn, Statesman Journal, March 22, 2015

2012 Commencement spearker Mark Corcoran and Pastega award winners recognized, WOU Stories, June 30, 2012

Campus Man, WOU Stories, June 20, 2012







We use the Active Citizen Continuum to guide those who want to become more active in their community. By describing the different roles in the community it allows participants to identify their current stage and move along the continuum. It is our goal that all of our alternative break participants move along the Active Citizen Continuum and strive to become active citizens. During training and each alternative break experience, participants will be provided with the skills needed to achieve that goal.

Learn more about the Active Citizenship Continuum



We align our service with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which are an urgent call for action by all countries – developed and developing – in a global partnership. They recognize that ending poverty and other deprivations must go hand-in-hand with strategies that improve health and education, reduce inequality, and spur economic growth – all while tackling climate change and working to preserve our oceans and forests.

Learn more at: Sustainable Development Goals Knowledge Platform



We ground our education in Kolb’s Theory of Experiential Learning, Learn by Reflecting on Doing! Through guided reflections before, during, and after the on-break experience, we help students connect service to their own lives and that of our global community.  We reflect on:

What? What happened? What did you learn? What did you do? What did you expect? What was different? What was your reaction?

So What? Why does it matter? What are the consequences and meanings of your experiences? How do your experiences link to your academic, professional and/or personal development?

Now What? What are you going to do as a result of your experiences? What will you do differently? How will you apply what you have learned?



Alternative Breaks

An alternative break is an experience where a group of college students engage in service, typically for a week. Each team focuses on a particular social issue with exploration and immersion in that issue beginning long before the on-break experience itself. Students educate themselves and each other, then do hands-on work with relevant organizations. These experiences challenge them to think critically and compassionately—and to understand that there’s no such thing as “not my problem.” Upon return, participants are empowered to make more informed decisions and to take meaningful action that support community efforts.

Alternative Breaker

An alternative breaker is, simply put, a college student who participates in one of these immersive service-learning experiences.

Active Citizenship

Through alternative breaks, we hope to assist individuals in seeing themselves as contributors to their communities. Alternative breaks are the “what”, but active citizenship is our shared “why.” Active citizens are individuals who prioritize the community in their values and life choices. They don’t have to take action on every social issue, but rather, see the world through that lens. They take action on issues that matter to them and their communities.

Active Citizen Continuum

The Continuum gives a language to the transition from apathy to action. Members are individuals who aren’t concerned with their role in social issues; Volunteers are well-intentioned, but not necessarily well-educated about social issues; Conscientious Citizens are concerned with the root causes of social issues; and Active Citizens are individuals for whom the community has become a priority in their values and life choices.

Eight Components

Can you name them all? The Eight Components of a Quality Alternative Break are the foundation for any alternative break programs. Alternative breaks distinguish themselves from other volunteer programs by adhering to strong direct service, an alcohol and drug-fee policy, a commitment to diversity and social justice, orientation, education, training, reflection, and reorientation.

The Movement

The Movement consists of the 20,000+ alternative breakers, staff advisors, and learning partners who commit to active citizenship and to moving the needle on social issues each year at 200+ schools. It also consists of the 2,500+ Community Organizations who host alternative breakers each year. And with more than 25 years of alternative breaks and active citizenship, this Movement has made a lasting impact on the individuals who’ve participated and the communities they’ve served.

Community Partners

Community Partner is a nonprofit or community group that exists to work with the assets and needs present in communities (i.e. food security or ecosystem restoration) to serve their clients and constituents. They use volunteers to build capacity for their work. Volunteer groups may work with one or many Community Partners during an alternative break experience.

Faculty/Staff Advisors

A professional faculty/staff member provides guidance and oversight for an alternative break team, although their level of “hands-on” responsibilities varies from team to team.

Team Leaders

Team Leaders are the cohort of student leaders who facilitate individual alternative break teams. They ensure the team member experience is a transformative one through the inclusion of the Eight Components (issue education, community partner orientation, training, reflection, and reorientation, to name a few).

Team Members

Team Members are students who don’t have a leadership role on a team. Their primary responsibility is to fully engage in the social issue, strong direct service, and reflection, and to use the experience as a catalyst toward active citizenship. On average, there are 8-10 team members on a team.

Pre-Trip Meetings

Prior to departure, participants spend time learning about the social issue context, building the group dynamic, gaining relevant skills, and are oriented to the mission and vision of the community partner or organization(s) with which they will be working.


Upon return to campus, participants transfer the lessons learned on break by identifying local organizations for continued education or service, sharing their experience to raise awareness of social issues, and by organizing or joining other small groups to take action on local issues through direct service, advocacy, and/or philanthropy.




Interested in serving as a faculty/staff AB Advisor?

Learn more about the role of an advisor and apply for our Spring Break 2019 teams by visiting our AB Advisor page




WOU Alternative Break Program

(503) 838-8716 | or e-mail:  | Location: WUC 119