They call themselves “Breakers”—a name that sounds simple but the meaning behind it holds much more significance.
At the University of California, San Diego, Alternative Breaks, a non-profit student-run organization is aiming “to create globally conscious active citizens who commit to lifelong service.”
The name of the organization is derived from the students’ decision to spend their spring or summer break doing service and giving back to a community.
Every year, the organization sends students on local and international service and learning trips that focus on various social justice issues, including human and sex trafficking, community development, disabilities, HIV/AIDs, health and homelessness, among others.
But for many of the participants and leaders involved, Alternative Breaks, or AB, is much more than just a school organization—it’s a family.
AB was established as an official student organization at UC San Diego by Chapin Cole and Melissa Higgins in the 2005-2006 school year. Both women, students at the time, served as the first Co-Coordinators of the organization.
The first trip took place in 2003, in collaboration with the Cross Cultural Center on campus.
What started off as one trip to Tijuana, Mexico that year, has now branched off to more than a dozen trips every year, including national and international locations.
This year alone, students headed to Ecuador, Peru, Nicaragua, Belize, New York, Tennessee, Indiana, Virginia, Texas, Georgia and Hawaii.
But according to the students, the location does not matter as much as the social justice issue.
Each trip emphasizes the issue over the site, aiming to draw students to the community service aspect of AB, rather than a trip abroad or across the country.
“Joining this group where there are hundreds of other people who think the way I do, who are interested in social justice, who want to give back to the community…that made me feel like this is a place where I belonged,” said Alana Young, one of three current Co-Coordinators for AB.
Young told NBC 7, she dedicates between six to 10 hours a week for AB and all of it is volunteer time.
Although the three Co-Coordinators earn a small stipend, Young said it does not equate to the amount of time and energy they put into the organization.
But she said it is worth it.
Young said every week, service leaders and the executive board meet with the co-coordinators for about two hours. During the meeting, they learn how to facilitate discussions, coordinate the trip and learn the necessary training in case of an emergency.
While many of the service leaders and executive board members work in the forefront of the organization, the co-coordinators work behind the scenes.
“[We] work with UCSD staff and faculty to make sure that relationships are continuously being built and developed between the university and Alternative Breaks,” said Justin Abadejos, Co-Coordinator for AB.
Each AB group is broken down into three components with a total of 12 members. They include the two service leaders who plan, coordinate and execute the trip, the community adviser and nine participants.
The group meets once a week for the entire school year to learn about the social justice issue and the community in which they will be working. Even after spring break, groups gather weekly to discuss how to bring what they learned on their trip back to their own communities.
The AB collaborative also gathers at Orientation, a Winter Retreat and Re-Orientation following all of the spring break trips.
“It’s a very trying process where you’re constantly being forced to re-evaluate all the things you grew up thinking were true,” said Ryan De Leon.
De Leon was a participant for AB Safe and Sound to Double head Cabbage Village in Belize.
He told NBC 7, their group would spend their day interacting with children and teens. He added that he joined AB because of its focus on education about social justice issues.
For Peter Davis, a Service Leader for AB YouBelong, the organization has helped him expand his own thinking and how he can make an impact in his community.
Davis co-led a group to Cartago, Costa Rica to work with elderly and adults with mental disabilities. He told NBC 7, his group worked on a sensory garden and made scrapbooks with the members of the community all while attempting to overcome a language barrier.
He added that as an electrical engineer major, his main focus in college was school. But now, he is wondering how he can make in impact in the community with his career.
"Now that I've graduated, what kind of jobs can I do? That sustainability...or just anything. It really shifts the purpose of what I wanna go to," Davis told NBC 7.
Abadejos spoke along the same lines as Davis.
“Being able to talk about these controversial issues, and how we can deconstruct these issues and work towards tackling them, and how they relate to your community and how they relate to you as an individual is a whole new world that I didn’t really find until I joined Alternative Breaks," he said.
Students fund their trips through fundraisers, both personal and group, and scholarships which are granted through AB.
Alternative Breaks is a chapter of the parent company Breakaway.
Ed. Note: Jaspreet Kaur was a part of this organization when she attended UC San Diego.