Students prepare for Alternative Break Service Trips

Senior biology major Amanda Stolz said she commits her spring breaks to service trips so she can “pay it forward.”

Junior communication arts major Beth Gaertner said she serves to learn about the issues that might not have a big impact on her life but will greatly impact someone else’s life.

Gaertner and Stolz will join a group of approximately 30 Gannon University students for the Center for Social Concerns’ spring break lineup of Alternative Break Service Trips, slated to begin Friday and continue throughout the first week of March.

Six faculty, staff and administrators will join the students in their quest to live by the trips’ four pillars of service, simplicity, community and reflection.

Arlene Montevecchio, director of the Center for Social Concerns, said that the numbers of student volunteers for this round of trips is lower than past years – partially due to the economy, she estimated – but this year’s students have proven to be dedicated and committed to their trips’ causes.

“I think students get excited about seeing a different part of the world – or the United States – not just for their own personal benefit,” she said, “but for learning about other cultures, religions and political systems, and being in solidarity with the social issues and the people facing those issues.”

Members of the Gannon community will travel to four locations: San Pedro Sula, Honduras; The Bronx, N.Y.; New Orleans; and Immokalee, Fla.

In Honduras, the group will work with International Samaritan, an organization dedicated to building good communities for people living in and around city garbage dumps. The international trip was originally slated to go to Haiti, but after political unrest occurred following the national elections, International Samaritan opted to reschedule the trip to Honduras for volunteers’ safety.

“We probably would have canceled the trip anyway,” Montevecchio said.

Those traveling to The Bronx – Gannon’s longest-running ABST partnership, for more than 10 years – will spend the week working in a soup kitchen called Part of the Solution.

The New Orleans group will help repair homes damaged during Hurricane Katrina as well as tour the city through the ministry and retreat experience Contemplatives in Action.

In Immokalee, the group will work with the Coalition for Immokalee Workers to learn about the struggles plaguing migrant farmworkers.

Montevecchio said a third of the trips’ funding comes from the university, while fundraising efforts and donations cover about a fifth of the cost. The students pay the remainder of the cost out of pocket, and financial aid is available to those who demonstrate need through an application process.

Gaertner, the student leader for the Immokalee trip, said she feels “absolutely thrilled” to devote her spring break to a good cause.

“It is very important to me to help the Coalition fight for the rights of the farmers we have met and will continue to meet there,” she said. “Also – it’s going to be in the low- to mid-80s and sunny all week. What’s not to love?”

She noted that although some people see ABST as “giving up” a week that some think should be used for vacations only, the service trips incorporate both work and fun. For example, Gaertner said her group will spend their free day at the ocean.

“Even though we do not get to go home for the break, it’s still like a break because we are leaving campus and heading someplace most of the participants have never been,” she said.

This year will be Stolz’s fourth straight year attending an Alternative Break Service Trip, and she will serve as the student leader for the Honduras excursion. She said she is especially looking forward to this year’s trip because of her interest in public health issues, and her group will conduct a community survey about education, food, shelter and clinical/public health needs.

“[ABST] gives me an opportunity to travel and volunteer outside of my comfort zone with a supportive group at a reasonable price,” she said. “I think that service is important, because we all have needed and will need help at one time or another.”

For students interested in spending a bit of their summer break doing service, Montevecchio noted that the Center for Social Concerns will hold an information session on the summer break service trips 5-6 p.m. March 14 in Room 219 of the Waldron Campus Center. Summer trip groups will travel to serve in Washington, D.C., and Vanceburg, Ky.

Montevecchio said that although the trips tackle serious issues, the travelers still make time to learn about each other and enjoy their out-of-town experience.

“It’s fun to get to know other people at Gannon and work on projects together,” she said. “Service usually leaves you with a good feeling.”

ABBY BADACH

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