Wednesday, January 29, 2014
NEW WILMINGTON, Pa. - Ten Westminster College students and two staff members spent their winter break in the south serving others through Habitat for Humanity and ReStore, a store that sells surplus building supplies and household goods to raise money for Habitat.
The students traveled to Bluffton, S.C., during the first week of January where they stayed at the Fellowship Center of the Lowcountry Presbyterian Church. The center was opened up to the students by the church's interim pastor the Rev. Bob McCreight - who in the past served as interim pastor at the New Wilmington Presbyterian Church located across the street from Westminster's campus. The students were also introduced to the new pastor, the Rev. Chris Herrin.
The students participated in both of Lowcountry's Sunday morning worship services and offered a "Minute for Mission." On Monday the group cleaned the staff and reception areas and organized the storage area for the Family Promise Center, an interfaith hospitality organization that provides help for families in housing or life transitions.
During the rest of the week the group traveled to Savannah, Ga., about 25 miles from Bluffton, where they served with Coastal Empire Habitat for Humanity. The first couple of days the students worked on raising walls on a Habitat home. The last two days they assisted the staff at ReStore by stocking and moving large items and processing a 33,000 item end-of-the-year donation from Ace Hardware.
"I am always amazed at how a group of students who barely know each other become an incredible team so quickly and merge together so well," said Carey Anne Meyer-LaSor `86, assistant to the College chaplain, who has accompanied students on several mission trips. "I am also always humbled by how often and deeply Westminster students are complimented for their work, their camaraderie, and how well they speak and interact with staff and other volunteers."
LaSor continued, "Each group is unique in its own way, and I am privileged to watch them learn about themselves and gain confidence in learning new skills on each and every trip."
Student Gretchen Schwarz said, "I wanted to go on this trip honestly to get away from normal school and home stresses. I could not have picked a better way to spend a week of my winter break. This trip reconnected me with my relationship to God and allowed me to finally take time to reflect and think about how I wanted to be and act in the spring. One day we went kayaking and I realized I was getting slightly upset that I was not in the head of the pack. It was in that moment that I realized my true competitive spirit and am now trying to overcome that."
Schwarz continued, "I learned that I do not have to alter myself to become more well-liked; I spent every moment for a week with some people that I had never seen on campus and we ended up, honestly, very good friends. It's amazing what a week away from the normal, routine lives we lead can do for your mental, physical and spiritual help."
Community service among Westminster College students and staff is nothing out of the ordinary. Volunteerism and civic engagement is integral to the College's mission to apply knowledge to contemporary issues, while demonstrating moral and ethical commitments to neighbor and society, and to demonstrate commitment to lifelong learning and the acquisition of skills for careers and for responsible service as world citizens.
"Even though you were exhausted from cleaning or lifting or hammering, you continued to stay motivated because you knew you were helping someone in need," student Kierstin Barker said.
Student Sarah Slonaker said, "Words cannot describe how much I loved this trip. As the week progressed I loved seeing how much we helped the community. Also, throughout the week I saw how all of us had changed too. As we made an impact on the people, they also made an impact on us. We went into the trip as 10 students, who go to the same school, and not a lot of us knew each other, but we all came home with nine new friends in the end."
Westminster uses such educational methods as service-learning in which the service is integrated into the course curriculum and requires that the students reflect on their service activity. Service-Learning incorporates the mission of the College in the classroom allowing students to grasp "real-life" experiences in their field of study, while meeting community needs through service. Due to this and many other activities that allow students to give back to the community Westminster has earned President's Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll recognition every year since the program was launched in 2006.
"I wanted to go on this trip because I am a Christian education major, and mission interests me," student Laura Chambers said. "I really enjoy serving, but I have had little experience with work trips, especially with Habitat for Humanity. I am thrilled about the idea that I may possibly lead my own work trip with Habitat for Humanity one day. I learned so much about organization as a leader, and I also learned a lot about the importance of affirmation and group bonding on trips like this."
Chambers continued, "This trip really impacted me spiritually. I surprised myself and signed up on my own, without any close friend to accompany me. I really was so impressed by how God bonded us together on this trip, to develop friendships with others on campus who are a part of different social circles. I think God really showed me that week that I was able - I can build, I can serve, and I can interact with others and show His love. It was so neat."
Katie Gray, a 2011 Westminster graduate now serving as residence director in the office of student affairs, also accompanied the students on the trip.
Contact Westminster's Chapel Office at 724-946-7117 for additional information.