Giving Back and Getting Back

Students combined interests in sustainability and volunteerism during a spring break trip to Florida.

Students tap varied interests during spring service trips

by MaryAlice Bitts-Jackson

Whatever your interest, whatever your skill set, there’s something you can do to help effect positive change. The 60 students, faculty and staff members who took service trips during spring break learned that and more when they lent a hand in four communities across the U.S.

Experienced student volunteers teamed with staff members to lead weeklong service trips to West Virginia, Georgia, Michigan and Florida. They and their fellow volunteers rolled up their sleeves, partnering with local nonprofit organizations to provide relief to natural-disaster victims, help secure adequate housing for the impoverished, work with those of different faiths to help strengthen communities and use recycled materials to protect the environment and supply housing for the homeless.

Service trip coordinator Janaiya Banks ’19 (Africana studies, law & policy) co-led the Florida trip along with Ralph Hernandez ’18 (physics, economics); Tara Fischer, associate dean of academic advising; and Jaime Phillips, community service coordinator. Their group of 15 Dickinson volunteers worked with Community Collaborations International to help build a manmade reef out of oyster shells to protect the Florida Gulf's coastline from erosion. The group also cleaned and reorganized one of Habitat for Humanity’s Reuse thrift stores, which funnel 100 percent of profits into projects to provide new housing for those in need.

“It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," says Banks, who marked her second service trip this spring, after volunteering during last year’s Dickinson trip to New Orleans. “Not only did I get to help people, but I also got to create deep connections with every single person on my trip.”

For Benjamin DiNardo '18, an economics major who's also involved with Montgomery Service Leaders, Dickinson Christian Fellowship and club soccer, those connections also extended into the community he served. Working with fellow trip leaders Amanda Ratajczak '17 (physics), farm apprentice Cindy Baur '16 and Career Center Associate Director Annie Kondas, he and his team partnered with the Fuller Center for Housing to help build and refurbish low-income houses in Americus, Georgia.

"For me, the biggest challenge was leaving Americus after an excellent week," says DiNardo, who returned to Georgia after volunteering there last spring and also took a winter 2016 trip to Cameroon. "I hope to return one day to revisit the Fuller Center and the friends that I made." 

Asked if he'd recommend service trips to the uninitiated, the three-time service trip veteran didn't hesitate: "Experience a new place and push your comfort zones," DiNardo advises, "and find out the importance of service."

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Published March 30, 2017