Madeline Ng ’21 spent her Saturday directing traffic in a parking lot. And she loved it.
Ng is one of the leaders of BreakOut, a student-led organization founded in 1999 under the Collaborative for Community Engagement that plans service projects on weekends and Block Breaks. This Saturday, she signed up with BreakOut to volunteer at a parking lot fundraiser for Greccio Housing, a local nonprofit that creates affordable housing for low-income families.
It wasn’t until later that she learned the fundraiser was a crucial part of the weekend’s Labor Day Liftoff Festival, which attracts thousands of people each day of the four-day event. Ng spent five hours in the festival’s parking lot, directing cars into the proper spots.
“We got to look around the festival and see all the people, hot air balloons, local artists, and all sorts of vendors, so that was really fun,” Ng said. “That was probably one of the coolest experiences I’ve had volunteering with BreakOut — just getting to be out and about in the community with other people.”
On a typical weekend, Ng organizes and leads a service opportunity with a local nonprofit on Saturday, then wakes up at 7 a.m. the next day to prep or serve meals at the Marian House Soup Kitchen.
“If you’re serving, you get to see everyone who comes through the line or sits at the table, and you get to interact with them,” Ng said. “It’s really interesting to meet and talk with the people who come through just because they have so many different stories and so many different experiences to share.”
This is what BreakOut does best: connecting Colorado College students with tangible ways to support nearby communities. While Ng’s role as a leader focuses mostly on doing so through the organization of Saturday trips, leader Patricia Pi ’21 is focused on organizing and leading Block Break trips. Last year, BreakOut organized around 20 trips, with more than 50 students participating in the various events.
“[Through BreakOut,] I’ve done things that I never expected myself to be able to do,” Pi said. “In high school, you do service just to go to college, but in college, I’m not doing it because I have to, but because I want to.”
The first BreakOut trip that Pi ever signed up for was a Block Break trip with Mission: Wolf, a wolf sanctuary in Westcliffe, Colo. A few blocks later, she signed up for another trip — this time, with Habitat for Humanity in Santa Fe, N.M. Next, she led a Spring Break trip to Bears Ears in Utah.
“It was the first trip I ever led, and I was so nervous,” Pi said. “We did trail maintenance, and it was such hard work, but it was really fun and satisfying to be like, ‘I was there, and I did that, and people are going to use the things that I built.’”
During most BreakOut trips, a representative from the partnering nonprofit teaches a lesson on a relevant topic to accompany the service work. Pi remembers learning about habitat preservation with experts from Mission: Wolf, low-income housing with Habitat for Humanity, and environmental preservation in Bears Ears.
“We try to make all of our opportunities really diverse and interesting and appealing to anyone who would want to ever volunteer,” Ng said. “Our main goal is to make volunteering opportunities accessible to pretty much anyone in the student body.”
Ng and Pi are both examples of BreakOut’s success in connecting passionate people with local service opportunities that they might not have found otherwise. They both started as members, signing up last year at club fairs or online, and quickly worked their way up to intern positions. This year, they are urging others to give BreakOut the same chance.
“You’re always welcome to come for what you can. It’s all based on what you can do and what you would like to do for people around you,” Ng said. “I feel like I’m actually making a difference — and not just to the people I serve when I’m volunteering.”