Students Take Break for Service

Ellen Hoffman, Editor-in-Chief

Service, one of the four charisms of mercy, is the goal of Campus Ministry as staff plans fall break service trips.

Twenty students have the chance to travel to either Benson, Vermont or Cumberland, Rhode Island to volunteer with the Sisters of Mercy over fall break. Both locations provide opportunities grounded in an eco spirituality, or Spirit of the Earth, philosophy.

Chris Somers, Director of Campus Ministry and trip coordinator is encouraging interested students to submit applications. Somers said the popular trips attract many students who have not taken part before.

“These trips are beneficial because of the students desire to serve. I think that we attract students here that have a strong desire to help others,” she said. “And I think they end up helping themselves. They end up learning so much educationally and spiritually that they end up impacting themselves.”

Students can work outdoors helping to paint, clear land or feed animals at Mercy Farms in Vermont or New Dawn Earth Center in Rhode Island, which are run by the Sisters of Mercy. The three-day educational and spiritual experience cost $75 per student.

Somers said all service trips provide students with an important educational experience.

“I think one part is helping other people and serving them, especially agencies that need the volunteer help or they might need help with outside work and a lot of these agencies don’t have the money or the man power to be doing this by themselves, so the volunteers really help the agency or the place that they’re going.”

Past service trips include Habitat for Humanity, and other inner-city organizations that serve with homeless people, the elderly and underprivileged children. Somers said students return to school with a greater awareness of social justice topics such as poverty and homelessness, which some group members have never seen before.

“They really transform themselves and they come back and they’ve learned something about sustainability or the earth or people that live in poverty. I think our students get transformed in the experience and they come back changed people, some of them.”

Students also learn a sense of community. After traveling a great distance, sometimes without knowing anyone else on the trip, students are forced to interact.

“I think the other important part of the trip is the sense of community that sometimes it’s ten strangers going on a trip together and spending all that time together so people become really, really close friends and generally the groups get along really well,” she said. “I think at the end of the trip it’s hard to leave.  It’s a great bonding experience for the students.”

Junior Megan Lage traveled to Rhode Island last year and volunteered at New Dawn Earth Center.

“It’s a learning experience and you learn a lot about others as well as yourself on them,” Lage said.

Lage participated in both the fall and spring service trips as a sophomore and said the most exhilarating part, aside from volunteering, is hearing peoples stories. As a member on the spring break trip to Schenectady, New York last year she said she would definitely return.

“The spring break trip was all about communication and not judging someone before you get to know them,” she said. “I wouldn’t mind going back to New York because the people there were so nice.”

Almost 80 percent of students on fall or spring break service trips are new faces that want to serve others.

“There are a good number of students that are already involved here that are leaders and keep coming back but for the most part we always attract new faces for these trips.”

Somers said numerous people have asked why students travel so far away when they could serve others in their backyard of Luzerne County.  She said local volunteer projects are a part of every day activity in Campus Ministry.

“That happens around here daily.  We serve right here as much as we can.”

Campus Ministry sends students to nursing homes, soup kitchens and local Habitat for Humanity locations.  Students also provide support in Noxen, a town that was hit hard by  flooding last year. Volunteers provide tutoring for children and an outreach program for the elderly.

Somers said applications will be available mid October.

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