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VOLbreaks FAQs

Check out the questions below. If we do not answer all your questions visit our contact us page or email us.

A VOLbreak is a trip where a group of college students (usually 10-12 per trip) engage in an immersive community service experience. VOLbreaks may occur during students’ fall, winter, weekend, or summer school breaks. Since 1993, UT students have been traveling locally, nationally and internationally, engaging in community service efforts that contribute to meaningful social change. VOLbreaks are also drug and alcohol-free experiences, with a heavy emphasis on group and individual reflection.

VOLbreak experiences can challenge students to critically think about and address serious social issues. After having a VOLbreak experience, participants often seek to continue their active citizenship on campus, in their own communities, and in partnership with other communities.

The VOLbreaks program works with community partners to design a week of quality, direct service. In addition to a significant amount of service each day, participants should expect to engage in developmental activities, workshops, documentary viewings, and other program components designed to promote active citizenship.

The 2021-2022 baseline price per participant is $150 for fall traveling trips, $100 for the Winter VOLbreak, and $250 for spring trips. The VOLbreaks program reserves the right to increase fees based on unforeseen trip expenses but will make every effort to publicize this before accepting applications.

The break locations and organizations we work with are not posted on our website intentionally. The locations are kept secret until Participant Kick-Off so participants will pick trips based on the issues/volunteer work rather than the location. You are more than welcome to contact Maria Martinez ( to learn more specific details about a break of interest before applying.

You should note that every day will be a little different, but the timeline of a ‘typical’ day on a VOLbreak trip is as follows. All participants (students, VBLs and LPs) participate in the events listed:

VOLbreaks Sample Schedule
7am Wake-up/eat breakfast and pack lunch
8am Depart for service
9am-noon Serve at community non-profit site #1
noon-1pm Lunch
1pm-5pm Serve at community non-profit site #2
6pm-7:30pm Trip to grocery store, then back to housing site
7:30pm-8:30pm Dinner is cooked by a team of participants, some participants may shower now, dinner is eaten by the group and cleaned up by the ‘clean-up’ crew
8:30pm-9:30pm Reflection (participated by all on trip)
9:30pm-? Group will play games, continue to have conversations about the day’s service, etc.

**In summary- the days are long, and full of strong direct service but make the trips so worthwhile!

The VOLbreaks program fees include transportation to the service site via van. Participants are required to travel with the group during every part of the experience—departure from UTK, throughout the week, and when returning to UTK. Participants are not permitted to leave the experience early or arrange other travel to return to UTK. Participants must sign a waiver agreeing to honor the transportation guidelines and expectations.

Most lodging accommodations are either provided by the host site or determined by the break leaders. Past VOLbreaks have stayed in tents, a church, a cabin, or in the actual service organization center. Many times it’s in a sleeping bag on the floor, but sometimes there are air mattresses or beds as well.

Sometimes there are separate sleeping areas for students who identify as men and women, but not always. Sometimes it is a requirement.

If any sleeping scenario does not feel comfortable to you, be sure to ask your leaders for more details about accommodations we can make.

Food is determined by each VOLbreak. VBLs plan meals and are in charge of shopping for the group (LPs often help with the food shopping). Breakfast and lunch are ‘on your own’ in the sense that participants can help themselves to bagels, cereals, fruit, etc. for breakfast and sandwich meat, bread, peanut butter, granola bars, etc. for lunch. Participants are responsible for packing their own lunches from this purchased food. Dinners are planned for the group but are usually cooked by a ‘dinner crew’ (half of the participants) while the other half cleans.

Most teams buy and prepare all of their meals. As part of the communal experience, we challenge teams to closely mirror SNAP accommodations by budgeting $1/person/day for breakfast, $2/person/day for lunch, and $3/person/day for dinner. It’s fun to meal prep and cook for the whole group creatively while learning more about some of our VOLbreak values. Some community partners and/or housing partners may provide meals as part of their role in the break.

Leaders will have information about food allergies and preferences so the team and/or partners can accommodate those.

No. VOLbreaks enforces a very strict drug and alcohol policy, even for students who are over the age of 21. Participants sign a waiver prior to departure agreeing to these terms and conditions. If participants are known to be using drugs or alcohol during the alternative break, they will be immediately dismissed from the break and must incur the costs of transportation on their own, in addition to facing potential disciplinary action from the university.

Why does the drug and alcohol policy exist?

VOLbreaks seeks to create a community among participants during their experience. We believe alcohol and other drugs interfere with the alternative break in the following ways: (1) Group dynamics: Not all members of the trip are 21, and it is illegal for students under 21 years of age to purchase or be in possession of alcoholic beverages. We aim to prevent feelings of isolation among students who are not able to legally engage in this behavior. (2) Respect for host communities: Certain breaks may serve populations with a personal connection to the issues of alcoholism or substance abuse. (3) Legal considerations: The use of illegal drugs places both the users and the community at legal risk. Given that all alternative breaks focus on serving the community and creating sustainable relationships, the use of alcohol and other drugs is inappropriate.

Prior to departure, groups will have 2-3 meetings throughout the semester that focus on their trip’s theme. These meetings will be an opportunity for team-building, as well as learning about the focus of the trip. Following the trip, groups will meet a minimum of one time for a reorientation event.

Pre- and post- trip meetings are required as participants will be provided policy and procedure information regarding the trip and activities so that they can be prepared for the experience. Information may include but not be limited to information on health, legal, environmental, political, cultural, societal, and religious conditions of the host location. If a student cannot attend one or more pre-trip meetings, they must arrange make-up meetings with the VBL to review material and information covered. Participants are advised to share this information with their parents/guardians so they can make informed decisions concerning preparation, participation, and behaviors while on the trip.

Yes, students who are unable to participate in a trip for its entire duration are ineligible to participate.

Each trip will travel together to the trip site and from the trip site. Due to risk management we are unable to allow anyone to travel separately except in case of emergency or dismissal from the trip.

We encourage all participants and leaders to bring their full selves to the trip and focus on the experience. However, we understand that it might be helpful to do school work on the trip. Most of this will depend on your trip’s schedule. Ask your leaders if there will be any “down” time that you can use to do homework.