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Calvin Trips to Offer Spring Break Service
March 8, 2007

Every year during spring break, a sizeable contingent of Calvin College students forgoes the traditional exodus to the beach for a chance to work in some less exotic communities.

Service LearningThis year, from Friday, March 16 through Saturday, March 24, 60 Calvin students and five mentors will participate in a quintet of service-learning spring break trips.

The goal of the trips—three of which will involve ongoing Katrina relief—is not merely service, but learning, says Calvin associate director of service-learning Lori Gesink.

“We don’t kid ourselves to think that one week of going somewhere and doing something is making a major difference in the lives of people we’re going to work alongside,” Gesink maintains. “So our goal is that students will be exposed to learning opportunities that they might not glean in any other learning situation, and, through the process of conversation and reflection, that their understanding for social issues and justice might be expanded.”

Ten students will be working with the Boston Project, a community-based organization in Boston that fosters renewal in urban neighborhoods.

“They will work with children. They work with the homeless. The students do a plethora of different projects to gain a broad exposure to the social issues of urban ministry,” says Gesink.

Seven students will do grounds maintenance at Rehoboth Christian School in Rehoboth, New Mexico.

The remaining three trips will continue Katrina restoration efforts: Twelve students will work with the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee (CRWRC) in Franklinton, Louisiana; twelve more will work with Samaritan’s Purse (evangelist Franklin Graham’s organization) in Chalmette, Louisiana; and 18 students will travel to Houma, Louisiana to work alongside members of First Baptist Church.

The last-mentioned trip will be mentored by Dan Vandersteen, a counselor in Calvin’s Broene Center, who will be working on Katrina efforts in Houma for the second time. Vandersteen had his first introduction to the community in Katrina’s immediate wake in 2005.

“I went down with the Red Cross right after the levee broke, and it was utter chaos,” he remembers. “I was assigned to a shelter. There were 1,500 people there, and there were three mental health people. I did a lot of listening—helped people make decisions about whether they were going Pennsylvania, Utah, Texas, California, Arkansas. Buses would come, and they would drop off stuff and be willing to take people back. And while I was there, I stayed at the First Baptist Church. That’s how I got to know the people from the church.”

Vandersteen’s relationship with the church was strengthened when he took a service-learning group to Houma to work on hurricane cleanup in spring 2006.

“When we went last year, which was eight months after Katrina hit, people were still waiting for their FEMA house, they were still living on their porch because their house was moldy. In the Ninth Ward of New Orleans, they were still bulldozing streets open in March,” he says. “They were still trying to get rid of the debris. There’s just a great need. And this is a long term project.”

The Houma trip is a good example of the intentional, long-term partnerships Calvin tries to build through the service-learning trips, says Gesink.

“We want to be relationship-oriented rather than crisis-oriented. We like to develop partnerships with agencies where year after year we can provide them with extra hands to further the work that they’re doing in local areas. They’re going to be doing work in the area long after we leave.”

Calvin students, who pay for the service-learning trips out of their own pockets, earn Cross Cultural Engagement (CCE) credit for participating. And Gesink says the service-learning experience benefits the students as much as they do the communities they visit.

“This is just another experience for students to continue on their journey of becoming who they’re supposed to be. The relationships that are formed on the trips tend to carry with them when they come back,” Gesink says. “We don’t know what a student will experience in this spring break trip that eight years from now might come back to them.”

~written by Calvin staff writer Myrna Anderson

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