By: Jarrod J. Irwin '13

Published on

Students at a service learning trip

This spring break, March 4-8, 2013, about 65 Aquinas students will volunteer their time through Campus Ministry’s service-learning programs. They will spend the week in five different locations, serving around the United States and abroad.

Eric Bridge, Aquinas’s coordinator of service-learning, said these trips have a long history at the College. Campus Ministry’s work with Christian Appalachian Project in Kentucky dates back over 20 years. Other students will work with St. Peter Claver Church in New Orleans for the second time. Aquinas has also added two new service-learning programs this year: one in Guatemala, and the other at Jerusalem Farm in Kansas City, Mo.

Many of the service trips involve helping with repairs and renovations on buildings. The students going to Jerusalem Farm will work with sustainability practices in an urban environment. Students working in the Dominican Republic will assist doctors at medical clinics and care for malnourished children.

Zach Jones, a junior who is serving in the Dominican Republican for the second time, feels strongly about serving others in this way. “I’ve been really blessed to have a lot in my life,” he said. “I almost have a duty to give back.”

As the only participant in this year’s Dominican Republic trip who has been there before, Jones will help lead the 12 students who will be serving there for the first time. They have been meeting regularly in preparation for the trip, and Jones said the group is very excited and a little nervous.

Many Aquinas students cite their service-learning experiences as the high point of their college careers, Bridge said. Another common feeling is that students wish they had gotten involved sooner.

Jones added that a student’s first experience serving in a new culture can feel very different from later trips. The first time he served in the Dominican Republic, the newness of the experience and the culture overwhelmed him. Returning a second time, he expects he’ll be able to focus more on the work, building relationships with the community there, and leading his group.

Bridge explained that when Campus Ministry considers applicants to the service-learning programs, the most important quality they look for is openness: “Are you open to learning about a new community, to learning about new issues?” Bridge also said the experience of spending so much time working with other Aquinas students can be eye-opening itself. “Students have as much opportunity to learn from other students,” he said, “and we do that by sharing our lives.”

Although service-learning trips are organized by Campus Ministry, they are open to students of all faiths. The spiritual component of these trips is important, however, so Bridge said students should be willing to share their thoughts, feelings and experiences with their group.

Jones said the spiritual lessons of his first time working in the Dominican Republic still affect the way he interacts with people. “I saw a really severely malnourished child come in with his mother. I’d never seen anything like that before.” He came away with a fuller sense of the value of all people and a commitment not to judge people or where they come from. “It’s seeing God in the faces of those you meet,” he added.