Volunteering and serving those in need can be a therapeutic way for college students to find respite from the daily rigors of classes and studying. Serving society’s less fortunate and marginalized also can help provide valuable reminders of what truly matters in life.
Some 44 Gannon students, faculty and staff recently did just that during the University’s recent alternative break service trips (ABSTs). The students, faculty and staff collectively -- and very generously -- devoted more than 1,700 hours of their time to community service and volunteerism.
During the University’s week of spring break, they traveled to four different countries -- Haiti, El Salvador, the United States and Canada -- enthusiastically embracing Gannon’s Mission of service.
Dr. Keith Taylor, President of Gannon University, and Arlene Montevecchio, Director of the Gannon Center for Social Concerns, accompanied seven students on the trip to Haiti. They and the students interacted with children at an orphanage, teaching them sewing, first aid and basic computing skills. The Gannon team also helped renovate the orphanage.
Allison Adkins, the trip’s student leader, said her experience in Haiti has forever changed her perception of individuals living in developing countries. “I learned to attach greater value to family, community, faith in God and simplicity because of the way the Haitian people valued them,” Adkins said. “Spending time with the children there inspired me to pursue working with children in the future. My heart was touched.”
Gannon’s student participants on the other trips also had life-changing experiences. Student Kayla Bryson-Tucker, for example, will cherish her ABST experience and continue to share it with others. 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 experience in El Salvador… is 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.”
Other participants on the ABSTs found inspiration closer to home. Some 15 students and three staff leaders traveled to Joplin, Mo., where residents and volunteers still are recovering from the destruction and devastation of a tornado last year. The students and staff assisted with relief efforts in the area, including rebuilding and cleanup.
Lauren Tatanus, the student leader on the Joplin trip, said the strong sense of faith and community there inspired her to become more confident in her own faith. Beth Gaertner, another student participant, also was grateful for the experience. “Hearing the stories of local residents who lost so much, and welcoming us as if we were a part of their lives, helped restore my faith in humanity,” Gaertner said.
A strong sense of community also was essential to the group working in Richmond Hill, Ontario. Seven Gannon students and Jessie Badach Hubert, Assistant Director of the Gannon Center for Social Concerns, spent the week living in homes of L’Arche Daybreak, a community for individuals with emotional, physical or intellectual disabilities. Hubert and the students shared in daily living, including worship.
Julia Campbell, one of the student participants on the Ontario trip, said the experience reinforced the importance of community. “L’Arche really taught me the importance of being human and opening up to others and being able to see the special gifts and strengths that everyone has,” she said.
Kimberly Hor, the El Salvador trip’s student leader, also had a significant and lasting experience. “The trip only lasted a week, but the memories we shared and the stories that touched our hearts will stay with us,” she said. “There is an unspeakable and profound impact from these experiences, making us conscious of our choices, and knowing that we will always be interconnected as humans.” The photo above was taken during the El Salvador trip.
Regardless of where they take students, Gannon’s annual alternative break service trips are based on four key pillars: service, simplicity, community and reflection.
To read more about the students’ adventures, visit these sites:
To see photos from the trips, visit here: