Sarah Rothenberger - Civil Rights Pilgrimage Breaker, January 2020

From January 4th through the 11th, I joined fellow Alvernia students, as well as students from Nazareth College in New York, on a week that would open my eyes to so much of our nation’s history that I never knew. The Civil Rights Pilgrimage took us on the week long journey starting in Birmingham, Alabama. We traveled to many places that carry significance for the civil rights movement, including Montgomery, Selma, Jackson, and Memphis, to name a few. I had the opportunity to hear from many civil rights veterans – the people who spent their childhood fighting for their freedom and continue to be advocates to this day. Additionally, I learned names I had never heard before, learned about important events and protests I had never known about, and gained a better understanding of some of the terrible injustice many people of color faced during the civil rights movement.

While the entire pilgrimage was filled with experiences that have left lasting impacts on me, I think our time in Selma left the largest impact. While in Selma we spoke to Ms. Joanne Bland, a civil rights activist who experienced Bloody Sunday, as well as many other events in the civil rights movement. She shared many stories from her childhood, about how it felt to grow up in the segregated south, and what it felt like to fight for her right to vote. She encouraged us all to do our part, to stand up for others, and to never be a silent witness to injustice. After speaking with her, we silently crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge. We were encouraged to think of the type of world we would like to live in while we did. The entire time I crossed I was continuously praying for a world where the dignity of each life is preserved, where people are treated in an equitable manner, and where race, gender, ability, age, etc. does not define what level of success you can reach.

Perhaps one of the biggest takeaways I have from this pilgrimage is that everyone has their own gifts and skill sets that can be used to make the world a better place. The civil rights movement is often remembered by the big names, all of whom are important, but so many of the civil rights veterans were ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. As long as we all use the gifts God has granted us in purposeful ways, we can all make the world a better place. The fight for peace and justice is one that is ever growing, but with hard work and persistence we can do so much to help others. I am forever thankful for the opportunity to learn about such an important piece of our history from those who were there to witness it first-hand. This pilgrimage truly emphasized the importance of seeking truth in our history, even if it is not all good. We owe it to ourselves and to our future children to remember these events and the names of those impacted so that justice and equity can be achieved.

Taylor Gough - Tennessee Breaker, May 2018


For the start of my summer I was able to go to Maryville, Tennessee to the Once Upon A Time campsite for a full immersion experience in the outdoors of the Smokey Mountains. At first it was pretty frightening having to check yourself for ticks every ten minutes, using an outhouse all week, and not having cell service to talk to your family. Even though I grew up playing in the woods, it was a lot different not being able to take a break and step back into your house. We depended a lot on each other to make it through the week. We thought it would be one of the longest weeks of our lives, but once we started getting to know one another and doing service for the community we quickly realized that we did not want to leave.


The couple who housed us for the week showed us how important it is to care for our environment. They taught us that the Cherokee people only took what they needed from the land, rather than the surplus and stock pile culture that we have at home. Throughout this trip I had the unique opportunity to not only provide service for the people in Tennessee, but also provide service for nature. We spent a day in the National Forest where the Park Rangers were very enthusiastic to share their work. They helped teach us about invasive species and that by removing them, we can help save the forest. Sometimes, we forget about creatures that are not ourselves. This trip reminded me that all of God's creations matter, and need our help.


This trip opened my eyes to new cultures. We learned about the seven Cherokee tribes, the history behind their culture, and where they are now. Our group also visited the Sequoyah Birthplace Museum where we learned about the history of Sequoyah, the man who created the Cherokee written language. In addition to the Cherokee, culture, we also learned about the culture of Tennessee. One night we went out in the community to listen to their blue grass music. They were excited that we were visiting and very appreciative of the help we completed in the community.  


Overall, the trip helped me reconnect with the environment around me, and to build long-lasting connections with my new friends at Alvernia. It is important to take a step back from ourselves and focus on others. The most impactful way to aid others is to help the environment because that impact everyone and everything around us.


Katryn Durenleau - Camden Breaker, May 2018


My experience in Camden, NJ this past May 2018 was exceptional and very eye-opening; it had surpassed any expectations that I had prior to the trip. I was nervous to go on this trip because there was only one person that I really knew prior, plus we were traveling to Camden, one of the most impoverished and dangerous cities in the country. However, after spending a week with my team in Camden, I have made thirteen new extremely close friends (there were many nights spent crying) and have created wonderful memories with the individuals at our service sites. I do not think that I truly realized how in need Camden, NJ was; I certainly did not know that it was the number one impoverished city in the U.S. However, after trekking the streets and being immersed within some of the destitute areas of Camden, this statistic became a reality. Even though this area of New Jersey is currently under severe poverty and distress, every person at our service sites whom we helped, was so immensely grateful for what we were doing. I think that I can speak for my entire team and say that this feeling of knowing what little some individuals have, and knowing that we all attend a private university, is overwhelming. Many of us feared that the people in Camden would be envious of our privileges and opportunities; however, the people in Camden felt just the opposite. After hearing the people say that “We are the future to stop hate, crime, homelessness, etc.”, I felt empowered to do them justice and do just what they had said.


This Alternative Break trip has more than changed my perspective of things, but it has also changed my life. I will never truly be the same person I was before our trip, as Camden has taken and altered a piece of who I am. As mentioned earlier, I was extremely nervous to go on this trip; now I regret not going on an AB trip earlier in my years at Alvernia as I will be a senior this fall. This trip has taught me to love everyone without judgement, give without ceasing, and to step forward into the world as an ethical leader with moral courage. This trip truly was one-of-a-kind; if anyone wants to test his/her faith or is seeking answers or reassurance, Camden, NJ is the place to go.


Jenna Trento - Reading Breaker, May 2018

My first week of summer vacation included staying back on campus to fulfill another forty hours of community service. I was part of the Reading Alternative Break group where the students were able to explore several ways on how they can make a difference in the nearby community. You do not have to go far to make an impact. Throughout the week, group members got to know one another by doing service at various sites. Some sites that were included in this break were Mary’s Shelter, Greater Berks Food Bank, and The Opportunity House. The days of service were well organized as group members were dedicated at each site.


I felt that this service trip was like no other experience that I have had in the past. It was an amazing way for me to become more familiar with the Reading community since I rarely have had the chance to branch out into the city of Reading after living on campus for two years. I also further recognized how service can be done in many ways since most of the service was done indirectly. For example, projects such as packing food into boxes or sorting canned items by their expiration dates allowed me to acknowledge that our hard work went into only the beginning stages of making a difference. Therefore, it opened my eyes that community service is a process where one might not always get to see the full impact.


Jacqueline Bauer - Philadelphia Breaker, March 2018


For my spring break this year I had the opportunity to go on an alternative break. The trip I took part in was the one that went to Philadelphia. This trip was different than the other alternative break trips because it was focused on interfaith dialogue. Having been catholic my entire life and going to catholic school I wanted to be able to know about other religions and how the worship and what they believed in. This trip allowed me to do that. I was able to learn about 6 different religious communities. Each one that we visited welcomed us with open arms. In some of the communities we attended services or masses. In others we sat down with them for a meal and either before or after the meal they told us all the history about their religion.


This trip did more for me then just teach me about other religions, it showed me that we can all coexist in this world and that even though we may worship or believe in different things in the end we all have the same purpose. I think the one religion that I was able to visit on this trip really made this clearer to me than any other. It was the Baha’i faith. The people of this faith did not only prepare a meal for us but also an entire presentation. During their presentation they mentioned every single faith. Whenever they would tell us who they worship or how they worship the next slide listed all the other faiths and who or how they worshiped. To me this was the greatest part of my entire trip, it really pulled things together for me and it made me want to become more involved with my faith than I was before my trip. 


Not only did this trip help me spiritually but it also showed me that I am very privileged in this world. We had the opportunity to help with the homeless or sick on multiple occasions during our time in Philly. Whether it was serving them dinner, helping to clean up the clothing closets in half way houses, or putting together meals for those who are sick, I felt like I was able to make a difference. Being able to be involved in helping them makes me want to help those now even when I do not have to. It also makes me feel very grateful for what I have in life.


I am very lucky that I was given this opportunity, I now see that even though we may all be a part of different religions we are all the same and that we should treat each other with respect. I also learned that just because someone has less than you it doesn’t make them lower then you. Everyone has feelings, everyone has diverse ways of handling things. Philly was an amazing experience and I hope I will get the opportunity to go on other trips within my next four years here at Alvernia.


Alternative Breaks