It may be getting a little colder, but we all know the surface of Erie winters hasn’t even been scratched. The Center for Social Concerns wants you to mentally skip all that unpleasantness, and think about your plans for spring — specifically your plans for spring break.
If you’re looking for a way to give back during your break, you might want to attend the informational session about Gannon’s volunteering spring break trips at 5 p.m. Thursday in Zurn Science Center Room 104. It is open to all interested students, staff and faculty.
Arlene Montevecchio, the director for the Center for Social Concerns, said the session will fill people in on what they can expect during these trips. She said she hopes to convey an understanding of the commitment required and get possible participants excited about the opportunities these trips will provide.
“We are really excited about them, and we think we’ll have a lot of student interest,” she said.
She said the trips have also received generous support from the president and provost’s office, on top of their usual budgets.
The four trips planned for 2012 spring break will take volunteers to Joplin, Mo.; Richmond Hill, Ontario; San Salvador; El Salvador; and Port-au-Prince, Haiti. All four destinations are new to the Alternative Spring Break Trip program.
Students headed to Joplin from Feb. 25 to March 4 will help rebuild, repair and clean homes and remove debris from the area, which in May was hit by the deadliest tornado it has seen in 60 years.
According to a brochure produced by Gannon University Mission & Ministry, 25 to 30 percent of the town was destroyed, and it will take up to five years to rebuild the homes and businesses lost.
Montevecchio said she received several emails from students who thought that’s where they needed to go to help. She said Joplin was added to the list of service trip destinations after the center found Matthew 25: Catholics Helping Joplin, a relief group working in the area that Gannon could join.
The group will stay at Shoalkirk retreat center and will have some time to tour St. Louis.
Volunteers headed to Richmond Hill from Feb. 25 to March 4, will be working with L’Arche Daybreak, an organization that helps men and women with intellectual disabilities.
The Daybreak campus has eight homes, a chapel, a retreat center, a craft center and a woodery. Volunteers will live in one of the eight homes and have an opportunity to assist in the daily lives of residents, including helping them clean and prepare meals.
Montevecchio said this experience is unique, because students spend a lot of individual time with residents.
Though workers will spend much of their time on their own assisting live-in employees to meet residents’ needs, they will also participate in large group meetings for daily reflection and will spend two nights at the retreat center to bond with other Gannon students.
A passport is required for the trip, and travelers will have some time to tour Toronto.
Those wishing to travel to San Salvador, El Salvador, from Feb. 25 to March 3 should expect to witness the poverty and inequality still present in the country, though it has seen some economic growth in recent years.
Volunteers will aid seniors, orphans and families.
They also will tour the sites related to human rights issues and the Catholic martyrs of the civil war in El Salvador, Montevecchio said.
They will be working with a service organization called Project FIAT (Faith In Action Together). The trip requires a passport and proper vaccinations. Tourist time will be limited.
Those who want to travel to Port-au-Prince, Haiti, from Feb. 25 to March 3 can expect to work with children.
Montevecchio said it is important to help out in this poor nation, especially in light of the 2010 earthquake, which killed more than a quarter of a million people and left one million homeless.
Volunteers will be working in Haiti to build an orphanage and provide educational activities for the children.
They will also tour the rebuilding effort sites of Catholic Relief Services’ Haiti Partnership Unit.
Those interested in this trip should acquire a passport and the proper vaccinations.
Tourist time will be limited.
Dan Breakey, a senior pre-medicine/biology major, said he is interested in going on one of the international service trips after he had a positive experience on a Gannon-sponsored Washington, D.C., service trip in the summer of 2010.
He said this trip focused on those who suffer from homelessness, poverty and HIV/AIDS in the area.
During his trip, he stayed in the basement of a church and worked at a homeless shelter.
His days began with Mass and preparing breakfast for the men who came to the shelter.
Usually he and his fellow volunteers prepared something simple for the men, like coffee or doughnuts, but one day he said they made them pancakes.
In the afternoons, he helped deliver food to people in the D.C. area, and in the surrounding areas in Virginia and Maryland with the service organization Food and Friends. On one afternoon, he said he helped out at the distribution center.
On another afternoon, he said his group was taken to Joseph’s House hospice to visit patients affected with HIV/AIDS and other diseases. He said his job was to visit with these patients and make them feel comfortable.
“It was an eye opener,” he said. “It was shocking to see that in Washington, D.C., our nation’s capital, a vision of our American dream – and with some of the best medical technology at prestigious universities, like Georgetown – people still struggle with disease and poverty.”
His nights usually ended by serving dinner to the men who came to the homeless shelter.
During this time, he also participated in group sessions intended to give the men guidance to help them get back on their feet.
Breakey said this trip challenged many of the misconceptions he had heard about the homeless.
He said these people weren’t addicted to drugs and alcohol, or unemployed.
“A lot of them have jobs; they just work 15 to 20 hours a week,” he said. “In D.C. – with the high cost of living – they can’t afford housing.”
Breakey urged more students go on these trips.
He said at many other schools these trips are competitive, and he thinks at a Catholic school, like Gannon, it should be just as hard for students to get a spot on these trips.
He especially urged other guys to get involved.
He said only one other guy came along on the D.C. trip.
Breakey said he thinks people will benefit from participating, because going on these trips will change the way they look at the world.
Montevecchio agreed. “They’re a really transformative experience,” she said.
She said these trips offer many benefits, beyond the chance to travel.
“I encourage anybody who’s interested in service – obviously – or meeting new people, to apply.”