Mizzou Alternative Breaks shuts down 42 spring semester volunteer trips
COLUMBIA - Kira Smith was sitting in a friend’s dorm scrolling through Twitter on Wednesday when MU announced that classes before spring break would be taught remotely, as well as cancellation of all university-sponsored travel. The reason? Concerns about COVID-19.
Smith planned to take part in her first spring break trip to Columbia, South Carolina, through Mizzou Alternative Breaks. But after reading the tweet, she wondered whether it would still be possible.
“All the people in my group were in the GroupMe texting … 'Do you guys know if it's going to be canceled or not? Is it going to be postponed? Will it be refunded?'” Smith said.
Mizzou Alternative Breaks answered Smith's question Thursday, announcing cancellation of all spring semester volunteer trips. That includes 42 spring break and weekend trips and will affect 300 student participants, MU spokesperson Christian Basi said.
MAB is a student-led program that sends students on service trips across the U.S. and abroad during school breaks. MU has one of the largest alternative break programs in the country.
Basi said all residential halls will be open over spring break, so students who planned to go on an MAB trip will have a place to stay if they do not go home.
MAB is "working their way through" student refunds, Basi said. All trip participant fees will be refunded, he said, but some fundraising money and donations that have already been processed will not be refunded.
MAB wants to refund "as much as possible," Basi said.
According to the MAB website, spring break participation fees are $230 and weekend trips are $115.
In light of the University’s suspension of all non-essential travel, all spring semester Mizzou Alternative Breaks trips have been cancelled. Student fees for these trips will not be charged and any donations that have not been processed will be refunded. - Pt.1— MU Alternative Breaks (@MizzouBreaks) March 12, 2020
“Whenever I read that, I was really upset,” Smith said of learning the MAB trips were off. “And I spent, like, four hours canning (fundraising) downtown to get money for our trip with other people in my group.”
Smith said she plans to reach out to the people who donated to her and explain they can't get a refund. She feels upset about that.
MU sophomore Rachelle Schnelle served on an MAB trip to New Orleans last year. "It was one of the best weeks of my Mizzou experience," she said.
This year, she was selected to serve as a site leader for Smith's trip to Columbia, South Carolina. It was focused on disaster relief, one of 15 categories of focus for MAB trips.
When Schnelle found out the trip would be canceled, she said, she felt disappointed. She was appointed a site leader last April and worked to prepare ever since.
"I had been working on it for so long," Schnelle said. "It never came to fruition."
MAB was founded in 1991 through the University YMCA, conducting three trips over its first spring break. In 2013, MAB transitioned from being a student organization to a program of the university and now conducts trips over Thanksgiving, winter, spring and summer breaks as well as weekend service trips.
Schnelle said she was disappointed that first-time MAB trip students, like Smith, wouldn't get to have the experience she did. Schnelle said she worried the situation could impact future participation.
Smith said she was really disappointed but would "absolutely" apply for another MAB trip in the future.
"I have kind of struggled getting involved in my first year here in college," Smith said. "So I was really looking forward to like making those friendships.”
Basi said MAB should not see any detrimental impact in the future because of the cancellations. He said the strong relationships MAB has built with partners over the years will help.
"Everybody understands what's going on and why we are canceling," he said. "This is all in an effort to curb the spread of the virus."