Alternative Break Trips Let Students Better Themselves by Bettering Communities

By Jaci Wendel
News Editor

This article was originally published in Issue 11, Fiftieth Year of The Minstrel (March 24, 2016). Click here to view the entire issue.

“I learned that I am so much stronger than I thought. I realized I’m strong in mind, in strength and in values.”

Freshman Elizabeth Ruth learned these things while volunteering in New Orleans, one of five different locations in the United States where DeSales student traveled for an alternative spring break. Seventy students, exceeding last year’s number of 65, served local communities in Lafayette, La.; Wilmington, Del.; Augusta, Ga.; and Baltimore, in addition to New Orleans.

Oftentimes when someone volunteers and does service for another who is less fortunate, they usually only anticipate the effect that it will have on the receiver of the service. However, many DeSales students spoke of the effect on themselves as well.

Junior Gerard Peyton, who traveled to Lafayette to work with Habitat for Humanity building houses for those who lost their homes during Hurricane Katrina, came back to Center Valley with a new commitment to do acts of service in his everyday life.

“I feel I learned a lot of myself. The trip really reinforced my ideas about service, hard work and teamwork, three things I place a great deal of importance on in my life,” said Peyton.

Augusta was the site of another Habitat build that students from DeSales had the opportunity to participate in. This was the first year DeSales used the Augusta site for an alternative spring break trip, and the typical workday lasted from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. After the work day, students were assimilated into the Augusta community by having a home-cooked meal prepared by members of local churches.

Students on the New Orleans spring break trip pose at their work site. Photo by Jamie Gerhart.
Students on the New Orleans spring break trip pose at their work site. Photo by Jamie Gerhart.

“One thing that I enjoyed a lot was meeting all of the people we met through the churches,” said freshman Abigail Brossman. “It was so comforting to have a delicious meal at the end of every day. We met so many wonderful people at these churches. The members of these churches knew very little about us and were still so welcoming.”

“The ‘Southern hospitality’ we experienced was truly inspiring,” Brossman continued. Another student who spoke of the hospitality she experienced was freshman Brenna Murphy, who also travelled to Lafayette. Students were able to personally meet the families that they were building houses for, and had the opportunity to have meaningful conversations about how Hurricane Katrina affected them personally.

“I enjoyed eating dinner with the families whose houses we were working on. I liked being able to see the difference all of us were making in the lives of those two families,” said Murphy. “We [were] fed lunch, including two days of awesome Louisiana food, shrimp pasta and jambalaya. The workers were very patient with us which was great for both returners and new attendees.”

The majority of this year’s 70 students were new attendees, as, according to the director of the Center for Service and Social Justice, Jaime Gerhart, many of the students were freshmen. There was also a higher number of male attendees than previous years. Overall, the students that went were able to get along with their team members very well, and Gerhart considered this year the best year in terms of group dynamic.

“Everyone came back really loving their team,” said Gerhart. “Every student felt like they accomplished an impactful service project.”

“The people that come together on these trips, it’s like you’ve taken a giant bucket of names and just pulled out random people,” said senior Phil Szalczinger, who joined the group going to Lafayette, “and now they’re interacting on a trip and you wouldn’t expect them to be speaking to each other or interacting outside of DeSales in any other way.”

While freshman Tiffany Tran was surprised with the results of her first spring break trip, she believed that her trip to Baltimore was very rewarding for both the community that she was serving and rewarding for herself.

“My favorite moment was every time we nished the job, the satisfaction from seeing all the boxes of food we packed or the driveway that we filled potholes or the path that we mulched definitely made the experience worth it or even the smiles on peoples’ faces when we left. Not so much because I knew I was helping, but because I knew I could help,” said Tran. “On trips like these, we always expect to do so much for other people when in reality we are [also] being benefited and growing as a person.”

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