Participants rush to defend Service Break Experience from antagonizing claims

No Villanova experience is complete without involvement outside the classroom.  Whether club sports, Greek life or service organizations, the groups we participate in shape us and forge our closest friendships.

What I have learned in class pales in comparison to the life lessons I have learned through the University, in particular with Campus Ministry’s Service Break Experiences.

Two weeks ago,  a student wrote an article about the flaws of these break trips (“Back from Fall Break, student stories of service trips sound like vacations” can be found on The Villanovan’s website).

Although this is a cogent, thoughtful look at service break trips, there is a fundamental disconnect between this outside view of the program and the lasting impressions of those who have actually participated.

I think that this disparity appears most clearly in one statement from that article: “To the ones getting served, there is nothing special about Villanova University students building a house that distinguishes us from any other college’s service teams.”

I think that Villanovans contribute something unique to each site we visit, a personal touch that matters to the people we encounter.

I am from Long Island, but I have been on trips with students from everywhere from Boston to Hawaii, of all different years, from all walks of Villanova life.   The only two things unifying us have been our commitment to the trip and our identity as Villanovans.

The connecting factor of Villanova and everything associated with the name—community and service—overshadows the differences of the individuals and creates a unified group that leaves a truly unique and indelible footprint.

On all of my trips, the Villanova group was not the only student group of volunteers on site.  Each time,  our site leaders commended not only our work ethic, but also how deeply the Villanova groups are immersed in our purpose.  There are certain specifics like our pledge to remain sober and not use phones or internet, but even beyond that the reflections each night center the group on the purpose at hand—opening our minds—in ways other groups do not.

Education, awareness, thoughtfulness… all of these words touch on a different side of why we travel and do not exclusively serve our immediate community.

I never knew how ignorant I was about the rest of the country until I lived in the heart of these communities.

I did not have pre-conceived notions of these people, but even worse, I had never even thought about Franklin from Tutwiler, Jason from Birmingham, Vania from Athens, or the countless others like them. Personally, at first the idea of paying travel and living expenses to do work that could be done by local professionals bothered me.

Mailing a check and putting that money into supplies and professional labor would be more cost efficient, but maximizing cost efficiency is not the goal.

Robert DeFina speaks before every trip in his Challenge to Poverty lecture about what defines break trips besides the end result of a completed house, tutored children or rescued sea turtles.  The time taken out to be present volunteers instead of distant benefactors builds relationships with people not otherwise possible and engages us in how they live.

The article referred to “the ones getting served,” but these individuals are people, not receptacles for our charity.

Instead of writing a check to help house someone, Villanova break trips provide us with the means to work with that person to build their house, and show these people that they matter as individuals, not just a moral obligation.

The article mentions the author’s friend, a UGA student from Athens, Ga., who came to Philadelphia on a service trip around the time that a Villanova group went to Athens.

This seems like a waste of resources, but having just been to Athens this past break, I can say that I have never returned so inspired to continue the mission we began.

His critique on break trips was not completely off-point. There are many students who return with a reinvented outlook on different social crises but do not continue the experience at home.

Campus ministry enables students to learn on these trips, but also to continue learning here in Philadelphia.

The recent article stated correctly that LIFT and COV are great local service opportunities.

Going one step further, I think that they are great methods to complement the life-changing experience of immersing yourself in a break trip, not replace them.

Just like spending time with and cheering for the athletes at Special Olympics matters, bringing the charity that Villanovans have to the doorsteps of the countless people encountered every break matters as well.

I encourage everyone who has not had a Service Break Experience to do so—you will not regret it, and you will not be the same when you come back.

But even more I encourage everyone who has participated to continue their mission to serve people wherever they go.  That is why we travel to do service on our breaks, and that is how Villanova has made me a better person.

 Mike Bucaria is a senior political science major from Rockville Centre, N.Y. He can be reached at mbucar01@villanova.edu. 


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