By Sam Marinelli
With the fall semester moving along at a swift pace, it appears as though fall and winter breaks are approaching rapidly. Although some students prefer to go home or on vacation to unwind during their breaks, many enjoy a much different kind of experience—a service break trip.
“I think that the Service Break Program is so popular because it’s had such a long history,” said Joanna Bowen, Campus Ministry Service Break Experience coordinator. “The program has been in existence for 30-plus years and has become part of the identity of Villanova. I think students enjoy the program because it gives students unique opportunities to work with different cultures.”
In the beginning of the semester, students are given the option to fill out applications and apply for Service Break Experiences of their choice.
“Students fill out the application by answering some general questions about where they are interested in traveling, as well as responding to some essay questions that give us an idea of their motivations for serving,” Bowen said. Students are notified if they are placed on a service trip or not within just 36 hours of the application deadline.
“Campus Ministry’s goal is to place all students that apply for Service Break Experiences,” Bowen said. “Sometimes, that is not possible, and we try to place students by class year so that older students are able to participate before they graduate.”
This coming fall, there are 13 mission service experiences and 12 Habitat for Humanity sites. These include destinations such as Guatemala, Georgia, Jamaica and California, among the many others.
This winter, there will be mission experiences to Ecuador and El Salvador. There is a diverse selection of destinations that make certain that there is a specific trip that will work for each student and their particular motivations for serving.
“I wouldn’t say one site is more popular than another one,” Bowen said. “We’ve found that students enjoy the diversity of the sites equally. Every location has something unique and special to offer.”
The process of break trips is fairly structured. Once students are assigned their experience and learn of their trip’s location, they meet with their groups weekly before departing.
“During these meetings, students learn about where they are traveling to and the social justice issues that are present in the communities they will be working with,” Bowen said.
While on the trip, students serve in different ways each day and participate in daily reflections as a way to help process what they are experiencing during the trip.
“When they return, [the students] participate in post-break reflection and four weeks of ‘What Now,’ which are sessions to help students process their experience and work for advocacy and justice,” Bowen said.
If money is an obstacle for students who feel strongly about serving, there is help available to them.
“Campus Ministry has a scholarship for students who need financial assistance called the Father Ray Jackson Scholarship,” Bowen said. “We also encourage students to fundraise with their groups to help offset costs.”
“We feel that it is important for students to get involved so that they have an opportunity to learn about the realities of different communities domestically and internationally,” she said. “We hope that students are also able to connect with each other on a deeper level and with their faith. We hope that students will become inspired to work for social justice after participating in the program.”
While Service Break Experiences are a surely life-changing experience in many ways—from making lifelong friends to serving a community in need—students should know that this is not their only chance to make a difference.
“In addition to the Service Break Program, we have a vibrant weekly service program,” Bowen said. “We encourage students to make a commitment to service in the local community as well, and there are many ways to do that at Villanova University.”