The Mary Ellen Brandell Volunteer Center has turned into one of my absolute favorite involvements of CMU, but it started as my most intimidating. Most specifically, the Alternative Breaks Program. You know when people tell you to take a leap outside of your comfort zone, and you might just love what happens? Because this is a prime example of that. At the end of my freshman year, I signed up to be a part of the Animal Rescue Alternative Break, and did not receive a spot on the break. I found this very discouraging, but that only caused me to work harder to solidify a spot on the next break I could join. When the next fall rolled around, I woke myself up extra early on sign up day so I could get myself ready to click as fast as I could and fight for a spot on one of the winter alternative breaks. Within the next day I got the confirmation email letting me know that I had received a spot on the Animal Endangerment Alternative Break!! I had no idea what I was getting myself into. During the time prior to our break, we met with our groups every week to get to know each other, build relationships, and learn even more about the issue we were going to serve. During the first week of winter break, we drove the 26 hours down to Homestead Florida and made our way to the Everglades Outpost to help them with hurricane restoration. This break taught me a lot about myself, my leadership style, and also the power of privilege. On this break I learned that I have lived quite a sheltered life, and it was very eye opening for me to submerge myself in another culture and community, and experience life from a whole new perspective. It was extremely humbling. I loved my experience so much, and I knew that I wanted to experience something like that again. Not too far after my break was finished, was it time to sign up for summer alternative breaks. As i’m sure you have guessed… I was up bright and early ready to sign up for a summer break. The summer break for animal rescue was the break that I had first tried signing up for, and did not receive a spot on. But oh how the tables have turned, because I secured a spot on the summer break for this upcoming August 2018!! I cried tears of joy, because the rescue work we will be doing is with sea turtle conservation (little known fact turtles are my FAVORITE animal). We will also be volunteering at the John D MacArthur Beach State Park, and the Loggerhead Marinelife Center. I am soon geeked about this trip. My excitement stems far beyond my love for sea turtles, because I am also excited about the community service work we will be doing as well. At our weekly meetings we spent time learning about our issue education. During this time two group members were assigned a topic, and would talk about how it impacts animals. We would then have educated discussions about it as a group. It shocked me to see how much I didn’t know, and how negatively animals are impacted by the way we live our lives. The members in my group participated in discussions very well, and that makes me even more excited to serve with these powerful women. My time i’ve spent with the alternative breaks program has inspired me to lead a break myself. I have loved the time I have spent serving, and I know that I would do a great job leading a group through an alternative break too. My time serving on these breaks is far from over, and I am excited to see where this journey takes me!