Fewer Service Trips Planned for Spring Semester

Donya Forst, Print Editor

Campus Ministry is offering three service trips this spring, just half of the six trips it usually offers.

Dr. Christine Somers, Director of Campus Ministry, said she had to cancel two trips that had been planned because of a lack of interest. Generally, 60-65 students sign up to attend one trip, but this year a mere 35 registered.

“We have student leaders who help run some of the registrations for the trips, and they think it has to do with the number of athletes we have on campus. A number of those students are going on trips with their sports teams,” said Somers.

Somers believes trips were well advertised via emails, flyers, social media, word of mouth and informational tables, and she was surprised that sign-ups are so low.

“I was a little bit shocked or surprised,” said Somers. “But usually you know what happens – come November, December or maybe even January they are like, ‘oh are there any trips,’ but you know at that point it’s too late. We have to plan four months in advance.”

Sites for this year’s trips are Habitat for Humanity near Houston, Texas, the Romero Center in Camden, New Jersey and Community at Visitation in Philadelphia. They take place March 2-7.

Cost for trips to Philadelphia and Camden range from $200 to $300, while the Habitat for Humanity trip costs a bit more because students have to pay airfare.  But Somers does not think price is a factor in the reduced interest.

“It really cannot be the price, I don’t think, because they are only $200 to $300,” said Somers.

At Habitat for Humanity, the students will do anything from building a house to painting or putting up a fence.

In Camden, speakers will talk about diversity, immigration and poverty. They also do some simulated poverty experiences with the students. During the day, students can clean up a neighborhood, work in a daycare for low-income children, or work with elderly, or at food banks and soup kitchens.

“I was there years ago, so we were looking for something close, something different, something somewhat affordable and something with a social justice theme,” said Somers.

At the Philadelphia site, a Sister of Mercy serves as Executive Director of s a comprehensive social service agency that offers tutoring, after school programs and a drop-in center for prostitutes. It is in a low-income neighborhood with a very diverse community of Latinos, Ethiopians and Vietnamese.

“We went to Philadelphia last year because of our connection with the Sisters of Mercy, and we knew that Sister Betty ran this agency. So I just started to investigate and check it out, and she was very happy to have students come and work her agency,” said Somers.

To be accepted for a trip, students must apply, and complete a 15-minute interview during which they explain why they want to go on the trip and provide other important information. They must attend pre-trip meetings if accepted.

“Then we have student leaders for the trips who organize the groups, do fundraising, icebreakers, making sure the groups know each other and if there is any kind of paperwork or planning,” said Somers.

Somers said her favorite parts of the trips include connecting with people and meeting people from cultures or  backgrounds that are different from her own.

“You think that you are going to help others and change the world, but you end up learning more about yourself in the process. You learn so much more about yourself and the world and people, I think, when you go on trips like this. That’s what makes them so rewarding and fulfilling to people,” said Somers.

Junior occupational therapy major Allison Hausman attended the spring break trip to Rhode Island last year, and she said that while the trip gave her an opportunity to work in a nursing home, learn more about nature and go on a night hike, it mostly gave her the opportunity to learn about herself.

“I think I learned just how good it feels to help others.  Even though you go on these trips to help the people at our location, I think that the Misericordia students are helped just as much,” said Hausman.

Before Somers was Director of Campus Ministry, she served asa Assistant Director of Campus Ministry and part of her job was to attend  service trips as a chaperone. She found the experiences rewarding and considers them an important part of her learning and growth.

“Personally I learned a lot from going on the trips. The people who you meet and listen to their stories and connecting with those that are underprivileged, that’s really important. All of that has to do with the mission of the university that we seek to serve others that are in need and we try to be compassionate,” said Somers.

Senior early childhood and special education major Brianna Oswald was a part of the spring break service trip to the Community at Visitation in Philadelphia last year. Her duties included attending the neighboring elementary school and assisting children with homework. She will travel this spring to the Romero Center in Camden.

“If you stick with something you feel passionate about, you can get a lot out of it. I gained a lot of leadership, teamwork and organizational skills. I also learned about different communities and issues that I never thought about by doing this trip with Misericordia. I learned to work more with others and see where people come from and their point of view. Volunteering is very rewarding and my volunteer opportunities have been some of my best experiences in my life,” said Oswald.

Junior pre-physician assistant major Kayleigh Morein attend multiple service trips, including trips to Vermont and Guyana. In Vermont, Morein did a lot of farming and outdoor activities, while in Guyana, she participated in hospitals, schools, orphanages, rehabilitation centers, and day care centers. She was nervous about going at first, but she said she is grateful that she did because she has many wonderful memories. She encourages others to consider taking service trips.

“Always be willing to learn and more importantly, always be willing to give. You don’t necessarily have to give a lot, but there is always an opportunity to give something, whether it be a listening ear or a smile. And I think the two biggest takeaways for me were embrace new experiences and that growth occurs when you step outside of your comfort zone,” said Morein.