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Spring Break 2014: Service Learning

The Dominican charism of Service may be best demonstrated in the Service Learning trips that are a tradition at Aquinas College. Every fall and spring break, students give up their restful interlude from academics to devote a week to hard work for the benefit of strangers. This spring, Aquinas is sending students to the Christian Appalachian Project, Edmundite Mission Corps, Jerusalem Farm, Nicaragua, and the Dominican Republic.

The students involved in the Christian Appalachian Project will spend their week in eastern Kentucky. Alongside other college students, they will be working to repair homes in an area suffering from poverty. Becca Ryan, the student leader, describes the effect of living and working outside of one’s comfort zone: “There is a ‘reverse culture shock’ effect of returning to one's home culture after living in another's; this humbles you,” she said. “I recommend these trips to students because it forces you to take a step away from who you are, where you are, and what you're doing. You gain experiences. You're an active, human contribution to the world.”

This year, a group of Aquinas students will be pioneering a trip to Managua, Nicaragua to work in the garbage dump communities. They will focus on literacy and building projects to improve the community. Nicaraguan students who are learning English will benefit from spending time with the Aquinas students. This trip calls for a lot of sacrifice and fundraising. Student leader, Marissa Kunkel, with her fellow students, has put a great deal of work into this service trip. “I have seen amazing performances from a select few students on the trip, who have gone above and beyond with fundraising efforts! Seeing their hard work really gives me the inspiration I need to have to lead this trip.”

Another group of students will travel to Louisiana to work with the Edmundite Mission Corps. They will volunteer at a Catholic church and school, working with the students. Specific projects involve painting, cleaning, and tutoring, all while learning about the community they will be volunteering in.

Kansas City, Missouri will welcome back a group of Aquinas students this spring. This service trip to Jerusalem Farm involves home repairs in addition to chores on the farm and participating in a life of sustainability, simplicity, and service. Anna Hendrickson, the student leader, describes her past service experience of working in poor communities: “ I think that there is a lot of prejudice towards people of lower socioeconomic status and although we know we're all equal as humans, being open to learning about the lives of other people helps us to connect with them and have compassion towards them.”

Once again, Aquinas will take students out of the country, this time into the Dominican Republic. These students will be volunteering in medical clinics, assisting in small but important ways in a community struggling with poverty. Weighing babies, distributing vitamins, and taking blood pressure will be among their tasks. Furthermore, the students will work on projects with the youth in the community. Participating in this trip in the past has left a profound impression on student leader, Anna Tompkins. “Every bit of work the group does impacts a Dominican's or Haitian's life for the better. It gave me such joy to see the smiles on their faces and the gratitude they have for what we were doing.”

These students will be giving up the time they might use to study, work, vacation, and relax, but, as Becca Ryan has found, “these trips actually contribute to my academic success. I use these experiences in professional research, writing, even class discussions. These trips make you think.” The constant refrain from students who have participated in service learning trips is how rewarding it was. Without hesitation, they recommend it to all Aquinas students.

As spring break begins, many Aquinas students are heading off to what is likely to be a life-changing week. Not only will their lives be altered as they encounter new cultures and new people, but through their service, joy, and compassion, they are bound to change the lives of those they are serving in the United States and abroad.