by Tony Moore
When spring break hits the big screen, it’s suddenly a nearly mythical beast that everyone is familiar with but no one has ever quite experienced—the traditional beach vacation blown into a million little pieces of sunscreen-soaked decadence. But, as it turns out, spring break means different things to different people, and for 52 Dickinson students this March, spring break meant stopping far short of the sandy beaches of Florida.
Through Dickinson’s Office of Religious Life & Community Service, four groups of students spent March 8-16 working on community-service projects in Upper Sand Mountain, Ala; Greenwood, S.C.; Macon, Ga.; and Harlan County, Ky., living a cycle that came to be known as “eat, sleep, serve, repeat.”
“We did a lot,” says Alejandro Heredia ’16 with a laugh, noting that the group took a woodworking class before helping renovate a house for an disadvantaged family. Heredia was on the Kentucky trip, which, among various hands-on missions, set out to explore the region’s religious attitudes and how they interact with and affect environmental issues, particularly through the lens of the local coal-mining industry.
“As students, we’re very environmentally conscious of what something like coal mining does, how bad it is for the environment,” he says, noting that the work the group did led to frequent discussions. “But in Kentucky, with people whose families have been in the coal-mining industry for generations and who rely on it to survive ... it was harder to say that coal mining is ‘bad,’ because all these peoples’ lives are surrounded by it; they rely on it.”
Meanwhile, in Macon, Ga., Jiyeong “Faith” Park ’16 and her group spent the majority of their daylight hours repairing a house through the Fuller Center for Housing. They also partnered with the Heritage Center, tutoring middle school students (and squeezing in more than a little basketball practice with them).
“I wanted to immerse myself in the community of a different culture, and the Macon community was very welcoming and engaging,” she says. “At the end of the day, I would feel physically exhausted but always felt so accomplished and cheerful because I was able to make a small difference.”
Two hundred miles northwest, Mu Mu ’16 was co-leading the Alabama trip and working with the Upper Sand Mountain Parish in Sylvania on another house: insulating pipes, painting, transporting materials and gardening.
“What I enjoy the most about service trips is the bonds it creates with the participants and the community around them, which is demonstrated in the work we do,” Mu says. “Not only does the community benefit from the service we provide, but we also learn a great deal about the community that surrounds us.”
Donna Hughes, director of Dickinson’s Office of Religious Life & Community Service, says that because the trips—which are often interfaith based—end up being their own rewards for students, and because Dickinson students seem to have a proclivity for giving back, the service trips require little to no selling on her part.
“The service culture is really strong here,” she says. “So we pitch the service trips as opportunities to understand some different issues—poverty, homelessness, hunger—in the U.S. It’s a chance to get involved in service, to get to know fellow Dickinsonians in a profound way and to know more about yourself. It really sells itself.”
On another recent service trip, for which Hughes' office partnered with the Office of LGBTQ Services, students headed to New York City to address some of the challenges and marginalization around gender and sexuality. Check the LGBTQ calendar for other upcoming events.
Published March 24, 2014