Volunteering and service can be the best way to recharge from weeks of work and studying – the Gannon Community has proven it.
This year, 44 Gannon students, faculty and staff members completed 1,760 hours of service over spring break on Alternative Break Service Trips, which encourage students, faculty and staff to dedicate a week of University break-time to volunteerism. At the end of February and beginning of March, the groups spent a week in four different countries – Haiti, El Salvador, the United States and Canada – spreading Gannon’s dedication to service in the Catholic Tradition.
University President Dr. Keith Taylor accompanied seven students on the trip to Haiti, along with Arlene Montevecchio, director of the Center for Social Concerns. The group interacted with children at an orphanage, teaching them sewing, first aid and basic computing, and helped renovate the orphanage building.
Allison Adkins, the trip’s student leader, said that her experience in Haiti has forever changed her perception of individuals who live in developing countries. “I learned to value family, community, faith in God and simplicity more because of the way Haitian people valued these things,” she said. “Being able to spend time with Haitian children lit in me a fire to pursue working with children in my future. To say the very least, my heart was touched and then melted and I will never be the same again.”
Students on other trips said that they had life-changing experiences, as well. Gannon student Kayla Bryson-Tucker, for example, said that she will hold her ABST experience in her heart and continue to share it throughout her life. Bryson-Tucker, along with six other students, one staff member and a faculty member, traveled to El Salvador to help with building projects, including a greenhouse and housing, and to visit a number of historical sites related to the Salvadoran Civil War.
“My ABST experience to El Salvador was one that I find difficult to put into words,” Bryson-Tucker said. “I found a new appreciation for clean water, my college education and the safeness I feel in the United States.”
While the trips to Haiti and El Salvador provided an international perspective on service, some students found inspiration closer to home. A group of 15 students and 3 staff leaders traveled to Joplin, Mo., where residents and volunteers are still recovering from the 2011 tornado’s destruction. The group assisted with relief efforts in the area, including rebuilding and garbage cleanup.
Lauren Tatanus, the trip’s student leader, said that the strong sense of faith and community in Joplin inspired her to become more confident in her own faith. Beth Gaertner, another student on the trip, was also inspired by the trip. “Hearing their stories and having them greet us as if we were a part of their lives forever helped me restore my faith in humanity,” Gaertner said.
A strong sense of community was essential to the group working in Richmond Hill, Ontario, as well. Living in homes of L’Arche Daybreak, a community for individuals with emotional, physical or intellectual disabilities, seven Gannon students and Jessie Badach Hubert, assistant director of the Center for Social Concerns, shared in daily living, including worship.
Julia Campbell, a student on the trip, said that the trip taught her about community. “L’Arche really taught me the importance of being human and opening up to others in weaknesses but finding the gifts and strengths of everyone in the community,” she said.
Although each trip, and each participant, had different experiences, all four groups focused on four key pillars: service, simplicity, community and reflection. The ABSTs are traditionally built around these pillars, which help to create the most impactful experience possible for the students and leaders.
Kimberly Hor, the El Salvador trip’s student leader, said that the impact from Gannon’s ABSTs stretches beyond the trip itself. “This break may have only lasted a week, but the memories that we shared and the stories that touched our hearts will linger on,” she said. “There is an unspeakable amount of impact from these experiences, making us conscious of our choices, knowing that we will always be interconnected as humans.”
You can view photos from the trips in the Spring Break Photo Gallery.