Alternative Breaks

What are Alternative Breaks?

Alternative Breaks (ABs) were initiated by students wanting an alternative to the “traditional” spring break experience, hoping instead to engage in volunteer service with their peers. At Naropa, the Alternative Break is a 3-credit course offered in the spring. Prior to their experiential learning trip, students attend classes to become educated about where they are serving and the factors that have led to the current conditions. During the trip, students observe themes they studied firsthand, engaging in experiential and service learning activities. Upon return, students attend classes to reflect on the experience and to find ways to continue to engage in meaningful action, becoming active citizens. The class will end with a group presentation where students have the opportunity to education the local community about their experience. Learn more about the Eight Components of a Quality Alternative Break.

Learn more about the Eight Components of a Quality Alternative Break.

This year, where will students serve and why?

Alternative Breaks focus on countless issues from homelessness to environmental stewardship to work with youth and beyond. This year, students will serve on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota addressing issues of housing, homelessness, and poverty, while learning about Lakota culture, history, and traditions.

  • The median income is approximately $2,600 to $3,500 per year; 97% of our Lakota people live below the poverty line.
  • Unemployment rates on the reservations are 80% or higher than the national average.
  • 33% of the homes lack basic clean water and sewage while 40% lack electricity; there is an estimated average of 17 people living in each family home.
  • The population on Pine Ridge has among the shortest life expectancies of any group in the Western Hemisphere: approximately 47 years for males and 52 years for females.
  • The Lakota language is an Endangered Language, on the verge of extinction and is not allowed to be taught in the U.S. Government schools.

Are you a student interested in taking the Alternative Break course? Learn more and apply.

Naropa Alternative Breaks Mission

The mission of Naropa’s Alternative Breaks is to cultivate contemplative activists through experiential learning. Alternative break trips integrate education, direct service, and reflection while immersing students in real-world, social justice issues that aim to create lasting change for the community and transform our students into engaged global citizens. Students integrate self-awareness and contemplative insight to meet the world with skill and compassion. Activist contemplative practices include volunteer projects, bearing witness, vigils, marches, and social justice pilgrimages.

History of Alternative Breaks at Naropa

"The trip has definitely been the highlight of my year. I haven't felt so grounded in a really long time… I feel that we gained so much through the experience. In fact, in many ways, I feel like I gained more than I gave… I'm really trying to figure out how I can integrate what I learned there into my life here and everywhere I go."
~Charla Harvey, 2014 participant, Crow Creek Reservation, South Dakota

Naropa has hosted several alternative breaks trips over the last several years, including trips to the following locations and addressing the following issues:

  • New Orleans, Louisiana // Disaster Recovery & Food Justice
  • Maryville, Tennessee // Cherokee Community: Building & Environmental Stewardship
  • Crow Creek Reservation, South Dakota // Sioux Community: Housing & Youth
  • Tucson, Arizona // Immigration & the Tohono O’odham community

Supporting Alternative Breaks

Donate OnlineThank you so much for considering supporting our program!

Why support?

We aspire to be a campus where students of all backgrounds have the opportunity to engage in meaningful volunteer service. One way we hope to achieve this goal through creating affordable and in-depth Alternative Breaks. These trips are transformational and often student involvement is so powerful that it fuels continued engagement in service, developing students into lifelong active citizens.

We are discovering that an increasing number of students are interested in the trip each year. Yet, some students find that the expense of the trip deters them from participating. Your financial gift helps us to support our students who want to engage in providing this service who may not otherwise be able to afford to participate. Additionally, it supports important, needed service work in the communities that we serve.

Lastly, your gift is tax-deductible and supports Naropa University as we continue to lead the world in providing academic excellence through contemplative education.

How to make a donation

“We helped each other when we needed support, and we challenged each other to take our learning further and open our hearts wider and wider.”
~Stephanie Zuniga-Perez, 2015 participant, Tucson, Arizona

If you are interested in making a donation to support Alternative Breaks at Naropa University, please visit our Crowdrise site.

How to sponsor the program

If you are interested in sponsoring Naropa Alternative Breaks, please contact Ethan Jackson at 303-546-3549 or We have sponsorship options ranging from $1,000 to $25,000 that offer a variety of benefits to you or your organization, including renaming the program in your honor, including your logo on this website, etc.

Photos from previous Alternative Breaks