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students and the members of the food pantry smiling

TU Takes on Tennessee – Alternative Spring Break 2023

by Samantha Sibbersen

students working at bird sanctuary

During the week of February 26, eight Tiffin University students and two staff members spent their spring break in Sevier County, Tennessee. This trip was organized by Wayne Kreis, Director of Student Engagement, with significant contribution from Rebecca Kielbasa. Together, these two created an itinerary that was both rewarding and fun for the students that volunteered. Students gave up what would be a week off of school for the opportunity to dedicate their time to helping others. This experience, rightfully named Alternative Spring Break, was completely volunteer based. Alternative Spring Break is an immersive week of hands-on service that encourages leadership and relationship building. This is supplemented with education and reflection that highlights the University’s ICARE Values. 

During their time in Tennessee, students were able to volunteer at a number of different organizations and community centers. On Monday, the group kicked off their trip by traveling to Seven Islands State Birding Park. Here, they experienced the beautiful wildlife of Tennessee as they aided the park in removing invasive plant species and learned about animal overpopulation problems. Tuesday found the group at Sevier County Food Ministries. The group spent their day organizing donations, handing out food and aiding clients with loading food into their cars. On Wednesday, the group spent more time in the Tennessee mountains as they took part in a Smoky Mountain cleanup. During this time, the group worked to beautify the Great Smoky Mountains by collecting garbage and other debris from the natural wildlife areas. The group traveled to My People Senior Activity Center on Thursday, where they worked up a sweat participating in Zumba classes and learning line dances with the seniors. Friday’s volunteer opportunity was at the Boys and Girls Club of the Smoky Mountains. Here, the group spent time doing crafts, helping with homework, counseling the teenage students in applying to colleges and leading some extracurricular activities.

This year’s trip marks the second year of the Alternative Spring Break program being offered, and it has seen significant growth in the size and organization of the trip. One volunteer, first-year Vivian Rayborn explained that she felt compelled to go on the trip because of the chance she had to make an impact.

students picking up trash

“I wanted to volunteer in Tennessee because the trip presented the opportunity to make an impact and be enriched by a new community.” Rayborn continued, “I had never been to Tennessee, so having the opportunity to go there and experience more than just sightseeing by actually getting involved with multiple aspects of the community was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.” 

Rayborn, as well as the other students that went on this trip, certainly were enriched by a new community. During their week in Tennessee, the group enjoyed the comfort of southern food at many different restaurants throughout Gatlinburg and the surrounding area. After a week of hard work, the group was given time to explore Pigeon Forge and the Gatlinburg area. Students embarked on hikes, shopping trips and other leisure activities to fully experience Tennessee.

For more information on the Alternative Spring Break program, visit

To donate to next year’s Alternative Spring Break trip, visit