Students serve during spring break February 18, 2008
Every year when spring break rolls around, a sizeable contingent of Calvin College students bypasses the conventional trek to the beach for a chance to work in some less relaxing locales.
From Saturday to Saturday, March 8 through 15, 110 students—double last year’s total—and eight mentors will participate in Calvin’s service-learning spring break trips. The groups will travel to eight sites around the country to serve alongside worthy nonprofits organizations and to learn about cultures other than their own.
“It’s the reciprocal relationship of coming alongside an agency for a week so that we can learn, and they can get extra help,” said Lori Gesink, a Calvin associate director of service-learning and the coordinator of the trips. “Our students get much more than they give.”
The relationships between Calvin and the agencies served are not only reciprocal, many are of long duration, Gesink emphasized: “The service-learning center is committed to partnership. Without partnership, it’s not service-learning. It’s volunteerism, or it’s charity. We care about these people. We know about the people we’re working with. Each year we get together and do a little more.”
Calvin students and mentors will spend spring break doing everything from urban ministry to hurricane relief. Three of this year’s trips represent a growing partnership between Calvin and several Louisiana communities to help these towns recover from the one-two punch of hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005.
Fourteen students—all from the Noordewier-VanderWerp residence hall—will work with the Boston Project, a community organization geared to urban renewal. “They will work with the homeless and help out with an after school program to gain a broad exposure to urban ministry,” Gesink said.
Fifteen students will work with Habitat for Humanity in Kansas City, Missouri.
Ten students will travel to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to work in urban ministry with Change a Heart: the Millvale Franciscan Volunteer Program, sponsored by the Sisters of St. Francis of Millvale, Pennsylvania. “I’m excited because I think this will have a different flavor than the other trips,” said Gesink.
Ten students will spend the week in Knoxville, Tennessee at the Florence Crittenton Agency, an outreach to young women in crisis.
Twelve students will visit Rehoboth, New Mexico and work with the Christian school association there. On the Rehoboth trip, which represents one of Calvin’s most enduring partnerships, students will learn some basics of Navajo cookery.
“It’s important for our students to honor and respect and learn about other cultures,” said Gesink, Thirty students on the trip are earning Cross Cultural Experience credit for their effort—a Calvin requirement for graduation. “Most students earn the credit through coursework, and some earn it through a spring break trip,” she said.
The largest proportion of students are heading to Louisiana; eighteen will go to Houma, 19 to Dulac and 15 to Boothville, and all will work on hurricane relief.
This is a third consecutive year for the Houma trip, mentored by Dan Vandersteen, a counselor at Calvin’s Broene Center who first traveled to the community immediately following Katrina. Vandersteen provided counseling for the many people who were homeless because of the disaster and to the many who relocated away from Houma.
“Families got on buses, and they just went all over the United States. The Red Cross helped with the housing, and they had churches where they would help the family get started,” he remembered. “It was the largest migration since the Civil War.”
Seeing that the post-hurricane rebuilding of Louisiana communities was stalled, Vandersteen has returned every year to Houma during spring break, always working to restore housing on the same block of the same street. "The first year, we did inside and fixed floors and ripped out walls and took the molded stuff out,” he said. “And last year we painted and repaired and did the outside. There’s so much work that needs to be done.”
The Houma venture has proved a popular one, drawing not only new students but veterans—and this year an ’07 alumnus—back to work in Louisiana. And the success of the partnership in Houma led to the trips in Dulac and Boothville, the latter a partnership with the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee.
Vandersteen is happy to see the partnership prosper: “I’m just so blessed. To go back with Calvin students, who pay to go back and give up their spring break—I am really, really blessed. We have good groups of students. They work hard. Every year.”
~written by Calvin staff writer Myrna Anderson