Behind the Story: Doing Good at Cal Poly through Alternative Breaks

In beginning our last project for the quarter, we had a hard time with story pitches. This was typical for our group– I found that pitching a viable story has been the most challenging part of this course, at least for my group. Cancelled class for the first two days also made us nervous because we wanted to be able to have a conversation with Brady about what ideas he thought were best. After doing some research, we finally settled on a story about the alternative breaks program.

I had actually never heard of alternative breaks here or at any other school and neither had my group members. “This project has really opened my eyes to some of the amazing opportunities Cal Poly offers that we don’t even realize exist,” Elise said.

I’m bummed I didn’t learn about alternative breaks sooner because I would have loved to have gone on a service trip. It’s like a mini study abroad experience but instead of just traveling, you’re actually doing good in a community. Plus, students are able to make a real impact in someone’s life which I can imagine is so rewarding.

I emailed the coordinators of the alternative breaks program and the Center for Service in Action right away to see if they would be able to meet for an interview. They responded in a timely manner and I gave them possible times that the group could meet with them. After the first correspondence, we didn’t hear back from them again, but decided to show up at their office the next day. We waited outside for an hour but no one showed up.

Initially, we felt really discouraged and thought about brainstorming for back-up stories. I encouraged my group that we would prove successful in contacting the directors and finding students to interview if we were just persistent. I posted on our class Facebook page to reach out to students and actually got several responses. We were then able to schedule interviews with a few students. After emailing the alternative breaks directors multiple times, they were finally responsive and were very apologetic about not being available sooner. We scheduled interviews with them and thankfully our story was back on track.

Elise and I went to interview a few students because Sierra and Taylor were unavailable. I was able to film them for Sierra’s video and Elise lead most of the interview questions since she is writing the story this time around. We were able to gain insight into how the trips worked, where you can go, and the impact that these students made. All of our sources touched on the fact that going on a service trip was essentially life changing and made them a lot more grateful for their privilege in this world.

One of our sources, Rachel D’Orazio said, “Going on this trip just showed me how incredibly generous people can be, even after such hardship that they can’t control, and it really kind of changed my perspective on our own privilege and our own lives and what we take for granted.”

One week after the project was assigned, all four of us interviewed the director of the Center for Service in Action, Bradley, and his graduate assistant, Phillip. They were very helpful in providing insight on how important is is to see peoples’ perspectives outside our own bubble of privilege. They also provided information on cost and fundraising opportunities to help pay for these trips. Both were excited that we wanted to possibly get the word out about the program; however they shared that they’ve been declining interviews from Mustang News because of inaccurate reporting about the program in the past. We realized that we need to keep in mind that this shouldn’t turn into a PR piece to promote the center, but rather a piece that focuses on unique student experiences.

“It is exciting to discover the opportunities we have as students, and even more inspiring to see how certain students are taking advantage of those opportunities to make a positive impact on the larger community,” Sierra said, explaining the essence that we want our story to convey.

Through talking to people and conducting my social media engagements, I learned that not many people had ever heard of alternative breaks. I am hoping that in reading our story, they are able to learn about this opportunity on our campus to not only have a life changing experience here in the U.S. or abroad, but also make a lasting impact on people in need.

Through reporting this quarter on a few of our stories, my group has learned a lot about all the unique experiences that students can take advantage of on campus. Taylor explains this perfectly: “I never realized just how many ‘Learn by Doing’ opportunities Cal Poly offered. It’s been such a great experience getting to learn about how people are taking advantage of these opportunities and using their breaks to do some good in the world.”