Each break during the school year, Campus Ministry has students lead and volunteer internationally and domestically. Students help build houses for Habitat for Humanity, heal hearts in different sites through sharing and listening to people’s stories and learn how they can better contribute to the world. Here are examples of the three different kinds of trips offered: Habitat for Humanity, domestic mission experiences and international mission experiences.
Habitat for Humanity group builds a home in Fort Smith, Arkansas
By: Deanna Crusco
Fall break is usually a time students spend in the comfort of their homes, far away from communal bathrooms and crowded dining halls. For a special group of Villanovans, however, fall break presents an opportunity to give back to the underserved by embarking on one of the many service break trips offered by Campus Ministry.
Habitat for Humanity International is one of the biggest organizations that sponsors service experiences for University students. This Christian-based organization works to eliminate homelessness by building or rehabilitating homes for low-income people, according to the Campus Ministry website.
Habitat for Humanity does not simply give away these homes to low-income people, but is instead structured so that individuals can be a part of the construction by contributing their own labor during this process.
This “sweat equity” requires approved housing applicants to contribute 300-400 hours of volunteer work prior to purchasing the homes, which are sold based on the cost of construction. Donated land and labor help keep the costs low, but what really attracts people to Habitat houses is that all of the money that is brought in from each mortgage is put directly into the Habitat for Humanity budget so more homes can be built for qualifying families. One of the leading causes for homelessness and hunger throughout the United States is the high cost of housing. The federal minimum hourly wage is only $7.25, but it takes at least an average hourly salary of $18.46 to afford the rent for a two-bedroom dwelling. The service break experiences offered through Habitat for Humanity allow students to take part in creating affordable housing that addresses this problem that is so nationally relevant.
Not only do break trips present an opportunity for service and personal growth, but they allow students to engage with peers who are passionate about service and share in creating friendships that will last a lifetime.
This Habitat for Humanity trip took place in Fort Smith, Ark. One of two leaders of this trip, Patricia Murray, oversaw her group during construction and recounted her experience this past week as “indescribable.”
“Going on break trips helps you realize how interconnected everyone is, and how you share so many similarities with people that you would never even have realized had you not shared this experience together,” said Murray when describing what the most rewarding aspect of this break trip was.
The importance of service is not solely something the University tries to teach students, but it becomes an integral part in making a student’s experience at Villanova truly life-changing.
Although Murray and her group did not have the chance to meet the family that would own the house they had worked on, they experienced an outpouring of love from the entire Arkansas community.
“An old couple came up to us and thanked us for all that we were doing,” she says. “Everyone was so grateful, and even though we were only there for a week, you could tell how important it was to the community and that it did make a difference.”
Murray also shared what she feels is the most important part about break trips.
“Not only is it a time for service and to be involved, but you also realize a lot of things about yourself,” she says. “You have time for reflection, which you don’t necessarily have time for on a daily basis, which is hugely important for personal growth.”
The impact Habitat for Humanity break trips have on students does not end once they’ve returned back to campus. Not only were Villanovans able to construct a home that would change a family’s life forever, but their lives too were changed by the experiences and the friendships Habitat for Humanity brought into their lives.
Unexpected lessons from local trip down the road in Philadelphia
By Noelle Mapes
When people think about service break experiences, the notions of going abroad come to mind. However, offered for the first time this fall, a service trip traveled just down the road to Philadelphia. Taking the R5 there and the R100 back, the group of 10 students and one advisor experienced more than they expected to this close to home.
There are a few different kinds of service break experiences offered through Campus Ministry. Habitat for Humanity trips work directly with that program, whereas mission experiences work with other organizations and for different issues.
Mission trips might do less physical labor but more conceptual thinking about advocacy opportunities at hand wherever they go. Philadelphia was one of the domestic mission trips offered, and it showed the students that there is social justice work to do everywhere in the world, even just down the street.
The group worked at an eclectic assortment of sites ranging from Philadabundance, a food bank and hunger relief organizer according to their website, to South Philadelphia High School. They spoke with workers, principals, teachers and students about their lives and what they have experienced in their respective environments.
The principal of South Philadelphia High School, Otis Hackney III, shared with the group that he had left a principal job at a suburban school to take this job as a challenge. He used to have to report to the U.S. Dept. of Justice because of the frequency of issues and hate crimes at the school, but his creative ideas surrounding his philosophy of education have helped him put himself in the shoes of his students and make student-focused improvements, says the group.
The graduation rate was 30 percent when he started working there but is slowly but surely working its way up.
A community garden, one of the sites the University group helped clean up, was one hands-on way to implement applicable learning for culinary or biology classes. The group worked in the garden side by side with a couple high school students who opened up to them about their lives.
Senior leaders Denis Whelan and Evan Nardone were particularly touched by this principal. They explained that half of the group was about split evenly between sophomores and seniors.
“Half the group was looking forward asking, ‘How does this relate to my professional goals,’” Whelan says. “The group was affected by so many people we met that had left jobs where they might have made more money to follow their passions. We saw how fruitful that could be, not only with the principal but others as well. On the other side the sophomores were inspired to build a partnership with the different sites we saw either through SLC [Sophomore Service Learning Community] or amongst their friends.”
One major facet of service break experiences is the “What now?” portion, the post-trip reflection on how the group can move forward with their newly acquired knowledge, relationships and experiences.
Usually this will involve a more conscious effort to live simply or advocate for the causes surrounding their sites from the University, but having Philadelphia so close makes the possibilities more abundant.
“Domestically you have more of an opportunity to make a difference and move forward from your trip to continue the work for justice,” Nardone says. “It’s more powerful for me as a U.S. citizen to write to my congressmen or go to Philadelphia than to work on global efforts from here. We didn’t even have to transition our group into this mindset, they took it away. They got all the contact information for the sites we went to and are so passionate about going back.”
Both leaders who have been on domestic missions experiences to outside states agree that domestic trips cause students to realize many issues abroad are present in the United States.
“Sometimes it’s more frustrating,” Whelan says. “When you go on an international mission trip there’s sometimes an expectation of being shocked by what you see. On my previous domestic trip and in Philadelphia it was just as shocking to see the types of poverty and injustices we have right here.”
Both Whelan and Nardone have been on an immigration-related experience to Athens, Ga., that greatly related to their trip to Philadelphia. They met with an advocacy group for immigration reform and had dinner with a student who had a difficult transition as an immigrant to the U.S. Though the two trips related, both leaders agreed they learned more about immigration.
“I thought I had a good grasp on immigration as an issue after Athens,” Nardone says. “This trip showed me you can never have a grasp on an issue because there are so many facets you don’t see. It made me aware of how I’m constantly learning.”
The group grew in many ways on this domestic trip and, the leaders say, this passion for social justice has the opportunity to manifest itself in follow up actions working and serving just down the street in Philadelphia.
Environmental focused international service trip goes to Costa Rica
By: Noelle Mapes
In Playa Hermosa, Costa Rica, 13 students and one alumna advisor spent a week protecting sea turtles, doing mangrove reforestation work, painting and refurbishing a playground and cleaning up the beach: not the activities that might be expected on a beautiful beach in Costa Rica, but the group grew from and appreciated every moment.
The University students on this international mission experience sought to learn and connect with the environment and nature of the communities in which they stayed. Through their beautifying and protective labor, as well as conversations with locals and their Costa Rican guide and bus driver, they expanded their knowledge and experience with the Costa Rican environment.
Their break trip was unusual because most of their work revolved around protecting the sea turtles, which meant they were working at night. Their typical day consisted of waking up around 7:30 a.m. and going out to do a daytime project, such as mangrove work or beach cleanup. In the afternoon they would finish their project and nap, then have dinner and do reflection before going out on beach patrol which was usually from about 10 p.m. – 2 a.m. Beach patrol consisted of walking along the beach and moving sea turtle nests to either a nursery or a safer place along the beach. Their presence there was also to deter poachers, who serve as one of the biggest threat to sea turtles. They often saw the sea turtles as they were coming up onto the beach to lay their eggs and even got to help return baby sea turtles to the ocean.
Senior leader Katie Wiseman reflects on the greatest learning opportunities pertaining to their work with the turtles.
“The highlight was probably the first time we saw a sea turtle giving birth,” Wiseman says. “That’s not something you can easily forget. Also, one night we came upon a sea turtle nest that had been laid too close to shore, and the tide was coming in and putting the nest at risk. It took the entire group to quickly dig up the nest and move the eggs before a wave came in, and this was definitely a memorable moment.”
The Costa Rican mission trip specifically worked with Tropical Adventures in Educations. It was also a chance for the group to pop the University bubble and travel outside of their comfort zones and outside of the country.
“International trips allow for doing service in a brand new culture, and cultural immersion was definitely something we experienced during our time in Costa Rica,” Wiseman says. Their meals frequently consisted of rice, beans and fruits, their free time included intense games of soccer and they had opportunities to explore the nearby town and go to a mass entirely in Spanish.
“I think the best part of international mission trips are the diverse types of new people that you get to meet,” Wiseman says. “Only our guide was really fluent in English, and only a couple people in our group spoke Spanish, but we were still able to get to know all the other people we stayed with and hear their stories, which was an invaluable experience. The international experience also really opened our eyes to the different kinds of problems that different areas are facing—while people cutting down mangroves was a major issue that was destroying the Costa Rican coastlines, it was something that was not at all on my radar in America.”
It might be difficult to imagine how work in Costa Rica could be applied to life at the University. However the group managed to extract applications from the unique experience of serving outside of the country.
“Through all the late nights and bug bites, the groups really came together to focus on being in the moment and concentrating on the connection between the environment and humanity—all the environmental issues we were working with related back to issues of poverty or lack of resources,” Wiseman says. “The trip really emphasized the huge impact that small actions can have, and this will definitely stay with me back at ’Nova.”