Alternative Breaks

The Center for Civic Engagement & Learning hosts and supports community service immersion programs that enable students to get involved in service beyond Cleveland. Rather than engage in typical college break activities, students on Alternative Breaks engage in projects with nonprofit organizations and community members in different cities and countries. It is a great way to make a difference, learn about a new issue and community, and meet new people!

During the Spring 2017 semester, CCEL will offer both domestic and international March & May Alternative Breaks focused on mass incarceration, refugees & immigrants, and unpacking international voluntourism. The application deadline for all breaks is February 1, 2017; however, spots will be filled on a rolling basis. Please see the below details for information on each of these break programs.

Prior to each break, there will be 3-4 pre-trip sessions to enhance participants' understanding of the community issue of focus on the break. Please save the date for the first of these pre-trip sessions on Saturday, February 4 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. as part of CCEL's Social Justice Teach-In. Each evening while on break, the group will also come together for reflection to process what they learn each day. There will be an opportunity for participants to come together post-break as well for a reorientation session to reflect on what they learned and how they can stay engaged in their community. In order to maintain the service focus of each break, students are asked to refrain from the use of alcohol or illegal drugs regardless of your age while on the trip. Each break will be led by a CWRU staff member and two student Site Leaders who will facilitate pre, during, and post break activities as part of the program.

CCEL also coordinates a community-based capstone course that involves a week of service activities with the National Park Service on Cumberland Island National Seashore off the coast of Georgia. Visit the capstone page to learn more about that program. CCEL is also happy to promote additional break programs coordinated by student service organizations and Case Western Reserve University affiliated departments.

For questions about CCEL's Alternative Breaks, contact Adrian Griffin.

apply to be a 2017 alternative break site leader

Help strengthen CCEL's Alternative Break program by applying to be a Site Leader for one of our March or May breaks. Site Leaders will work in pairs alongside a CWRU staff learning partner to enhance the education, service, reflection, and group bonding experience for the break. Selected Site Leaders will earn a $200 stipend that will be automatically applied to the cost of the break. Review the Site Leader responsibilities and complete the online application by Sunday, December 4. Applicants will be interviewed on a rolling basis.

alternative break scholarships available

A limited number of partial scholarships are available for each break for students with demonstrated financial need. Apply for a scholarship online by Friday, December 9 to be considered.

alternative spring breaks (march 13-march17)


Beyond Orange is the New Black: Mass Incarceration in the U.S.

The United States is the world's leading incarcerator. Through participating in education, direct service, and advocacy, students will have the opportunity to delve into the complexities of the U.S. justice system and explore alternative views of justice.

Participants will volunteer in Ypsilanti, Michigan with American Friends Service Committee, which advocates on behalf of incarcerated individuals and their loved ones who contact the nonprofit with a variety of concerns related to conditions of confinement, health care access, parole preparation, solitary confinement, and more. Students will also serve on the University of Michigan's campus in Ann Arbor with the Prison Creative Arts Project, assisting with their annual artshow of works by incarcerated artists. Through lodging at the hip, colorful Hostel Detroit, participants will also have the opportunity to explore the rich cultural attractions Detroit has to offer. Visit the following page for complete details.

Navigating Access, Integration, and Citizenship as New Americans

For thousands of refugees, asylum seekers, and immigrants settling in Ohio each year, the challenges of successful integration and pressures of assimilation create barriers to establishing healthy and thriving lives. Uprooted from their cultures and communities - either by choice or force - new Americans must navigate complicated processes as they add to the economic development and cultural richness of the area. Break participants will work with organizations in Columbus, Ohio that assist Garden in Columbusnew American populations in building skills to address barriers related to language, education, fair and affordable housing, and employment. Service opportunities include teaching English language skills through informal conversations with adults, conducting mock interviews to enhance job readiness, preparing enrichment activities for youth after school, and more. Participants will also learn about intentional steps the City of Columbus has taken to become a "welcoming community" by working to remove obstacles that often keep immigrant newcomers – and those who have lived in the city for years – from being successful.

The group will stay at the Wayfaring Buckeye Hostel in Columbus and will have the opportunity to explore the city's unique cultural assets and attractions, including sampling cuisine from immigrant-owned restaurants in the area and visiting the Ohio Statehouse.

Alternative Spring Breaks Logistics and Applications:

Alternative Spring Breaks depart the morning of Monday, March 13 and return the evening of Friday, March 17. The participant cost per break is $360, which includes transportation, lodging, entertainment, and all but three meals. The group will travel by CCEL minivans to and from the service cities (approximately 2.5-3 hours from campus). Students should be comfortable staying in simplistic accommodations. Lodgings on the trip may be mix-gender; participants should be comfortable sharing a room of bunk beds with other CWRU students. The hostels have private, gender-neutral bathrooms. Participants should also be comfortable preparing their own breakfasts and lunches – offerings include bagels, oatmeal, fruit, sandwiches, vegetable sticks, and snacks. There will be a stop at a grocery store while on break for students who wish to purchase their own meals out of pocket. The group will also be eating dinner out most evenings.

To officially become registered for the break, students need to complete the following steps by Wednesday, February 1; however, spots will be filled on a rolling basis:

  1. Complete the online application.
  2. Turn in an initial deposit of $160 payable by cash or check (made out to: Case Western Reserve University) to the CCEL office – Tinkham Veale University Center, Suite 165. The remaining trip balance of $200 will be due by Friday, February 17. Note: all payments are non-refundable.

Unpacking International Voluntourism in Nicaragua

ASB Nica group shot

CCEL directly coordinates an international Alternative Break to Nicaragua. Students will travel to a rural, coastal community near the town of Chinandega and work with a nonprofit organization called Waves of Hope. Service projects will include facilitating activities with the local school, helping to improve community infrastructure through basic construction projects, and working on afterschool projects with a local youth group.

The program will provide students with a unique immersion experience that will allow them to better understand Nicaraguan culture and history, while unpacking the ethics behind international voluntourism. Participants will stay at the yoga and surf eco-resort, El Coco Loco, and will have downtime to relax on the beach and explore various cities in Nicaragua.

Alternative May Break Logistics and Application:

The break will depart the morning of Friday, May 12 and return the evening of Friday, May 19. The participant cost for the break is $1460, which includes international airfare, in-country transportation, lodging, entertainment, and most meals. Students wishing to extend their on-campus housing at no cost while on the break can do so by volunteering at the Sunday, May 21 commencement. Students graduating in May 2017 are welcome to apply. For general information about the Nicaragua trip, check out our FAQ page or visit the Education Abroad website for an online application. Students will be required to meet with a CCEL staff member to go over break logistics prior to the February 1 application deadline. A $300 deposit is due to the Education Abroad office by February 1. The remaining deposits will be due on March 1 ($580) and March 31 ($580). All deposits are non-refundable. For highlights from past trips, visit the following page.

Accessibility: CCEL is committed to providing all students with opportunities to take full advantage of our programs. Our staff recognizes that students with documented disabilities may require reasonable accommodations in order to achieve this objective. If you are interested in taking part in a specific project but have questions related to accommodations and/or the accessibility of a site, please contact the office of Disability Resources in Educational Services for Students (216.368.5230 or, and they will work with a representative from our office to answer your questions.