Many Valparaiso University students could easily spend their entire two-week spring break on a sunny Florida beach, skiing in the Rockies, or relaxing at home and simply recharging for the remainder of the academic year. But each year, groups of hard-working individuals choose to give back by traveling with their peers to assist communities in need.
The Chapel of the Resurrection, including the Social Action Leadership Team (SALT), is teaming with the Union on five spring break service trips. Traveling on those trips are 64 volunteers — including nine chaperones and 55 undergraduate, graduate, and international students. The locations they will be traveling include: Harvey, Ill.; Detroit; Pine Ridge, S.D.; New Orleans; and Hicksville, N.Y. For many of these trips, Valpo will be continuing work in the same communities they worked in during past spring breaks. Follow these students along the way on Twitter at #ValpoSB.
One local trip is to Harvey, Ill., where students will be returning to Restoration Ministries to work with people who are recovering from addictions to drugs and alcohol. The Christian training facility offers a wonderful chance for students to share their faith as well as put to use the knowledge they gain in their studies.
“It’s been a learning experience,” said Kathleen Parilac ’12, who volunteered at Restoration Ministries last year. “I feel as if I’ve been served more than I served. The residents here and their fascinating stories of strength teach us more than we teach them.”
Also relatively close to home, students will be traveling with University Pastor James Wetzstein to Detroit. While there, students will be helping develop a pilot program for volunteer services such as the one established in New Orleans. This program will familiarize students with the city, exposing them to the culture as well as the hardship. Through hands-on work and volunteering, students will be able to help with the revitalization of a city in need.
“Through the spring break trips, students are able to see things through other people’s eyes,” Wetzstein said. “These communities have been through disaster and through encounters with their hardship, students can learn from them.”
Students traveling to South Dakota will be working on a Native American reservation where they will learn about the challenges facing the tribe, as well as many other natives living on reservations. Students will help the community by working to restore homes.
“Seeing them [the student workers] make new friends, try new things, and experience service and culture together was something I really enjoyed being a part of,” said Jessica Wilson, assistant director of student activities. Wilson chaperoned the New Orleans trip last year and will be accompanying students this year to the Pine Ridge Reservation. “I am looking forward to this next adventure.”
Through both the New York trip and the trip to New Orleans, students will be working to help restore the communities still recovering from hurricane destruction. Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast last fall, and students are traveling to aid rebuilding projects that will help families return to life before the storm. Similarly, destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina is still affecting the city of New Orleans, so students will continue work to help the city rebuild.
“I wanted to go back to NOLA because it was the most humbling experience I have had thus far in life,” said Kelli Chavez, a sophomore student volunteer who took part in the New Orleans service trip last year and will do so again this year. “I couldn’t believe how many people were still being affected by Katrina… I loved being able to help those people directly.”
In addition to the trips sponsored by SALT and the Union, Valparaiso University’s Study Abroad office offers opportunities for students to travel and serve. Through the College of Nursing, students will be traveling to India, Thailand, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Chile. These students will use their classroom knowledge of nursing to help provide basic health care to communities in need.
Study Abroad works with the Department of Theatre to bring students to England, in order to study first hand in some of the most prestigious theatres in the world. They also work with the graduate school to send graduate students to France to study at an international business school in Lyon. There will be a total of 60 students traveling through the study abroad office, along with 17 faculty and staff members.
Don’t forget to track these students’ journeys on Twitter at #ValpoSB.