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Students Participated in "Spring Break with a Purpose" Work Trips

Posted on Friday, March 23, 2012

Nearly 60 Westminster College students participated in three "Spring Break with a Purpose" work trips March 10-17.  Westminster President Dr. Rick Dorman, three faculty members, staff, and alumni joined the students on the work crews.

Two groups from Westminster's chapter of Habitat for Humanity participated in Habitat's Collegiate Challenge.  All of the groups were sponsored by the Westminster Chapel Office's "Spring Break with a Purpose."

"Westminster is a national leader in student involvement in community service and civic engagement," Dorman said.  "Participating in a Habitat work team during spring break, I personally see how such community service augments the educational experience of our students and helps to change not only the lives of those being served, but of the students performing the service."

Dr. Jacque King, Westminster assistant professor of business and Habitat adviser, Jessica Shelenberger, adjunct English faculty, and Andy Smith, a 2009 Westminster graduate, accompanied a group of 18 students to Sumter, S.C., a new location for Westminster work teams. 

Derek Burris, the group's Sumter contact and local radio show host, invited juniors Jessica Cromer, president of Westminster's Habitat chapter, and Connor Kobis to discuss Westminster and the Habitat activities.

"Both Jessica and Connor represented Westminster College and Habitat for Humanity honorably and made all of us proud to be in Sumter," King said.

King, a veteran Habitat volunteer and team leader, welcomes "the opportunity to serve others and model the way for those who want to learn how to serve others.  The blessing comes when we meet the people we are building the home for and how excited they are when they talk about ‘their new home.'  Many times the home we help build is the first one they could ever call their own."

King summed up the experience very simply: "Many people build houses.  We build homes."

Shelenberger has worked with Habitat but had never taken a trip specifically to work on one Habitat house project.  She found the experience both challenging and rewarding: "While I have been on mission trips before I have never served as a leader, so I was under the false impression that my main work was to hammer, saw, and lift at the work site.  I quickly recognized that my most important role was to serve the students, making sure their needs were met, whether those were physical, social, emotional, or spiritual."

Spending time with the students and the Habitat families made Shelenberger's absence from her own children - five-year-old Micah and almost-two-year-old Greta - more challenging than she had anticipated.  Now that she's back home, she thinks of kids: "my kids, the Habitat kids who will soon move into the house we worked on, the Westminster ‘kids' who helped lift and hammer a roof in place."

Smith, another veteran of Habitat trips both as a student and as an adviser, listed his top three reasons for continuing to volunteer.

"First, I love meeting new people," Smith said.  "Second - and probably the main reason I keep coming back - these trips bring out the best in people.  By the end of the week, we've formed a strong team that supports and cares for one another.  Finally, there is always the excitement of new places.  No matter where we go, we get to see the beauty of where we are in the warm welcome from the people who help to shelter and feed us.  They are always enthusiastic about sharing their culture and are never shy about their gratitude."

The second Habitat group of 17 students returned to Raleigh, N.C., at the invitation of Wake County Habitat for Humanity's volunteer coordinator.  According to Carey Anne M. LaSor, Westminster assistant to the chaplain, the affiliate had never extended a return invitation to any group before.

"What an honor!" LaSor said.  "That is a telling fact: Westminster has a reputation and it is an incredible one."

The group was led by LaSor; Dorman; Katie Gray, a 2011 Westminster graduate now serving as Pennsylvania Campus Compact Volunteer in Service to America in Westminster's Drinko Center for Experiential Learning; and Brad Weaver, Westminster broadcast and digital communications lecturer, and was again hosted by the Ebenezer United Methodist Church.

Wake County Habitat, a large and very active affiliate, is involved in construction, deconstruction, recycling for the city of Raleigh, and has a very large ReStore.  The Westminster team worked at four sites, providing an opportunity to learn all the ways Habitat works.

"I think I can say with assurance that each of these students was surprised at how good it feels to know how to use a hammer, how to level a board, to understand how a house goes together, and to be really, really tired - a good kind of tired," LaSor said.

Gray, who was a student on last year's Raleigh trip, was excited to return after that experience.

"I appreciated the opportunity to serve as a leader as opposed to being a student," Gray said.  "I was familiar with some of the work that went into coordinating the trip and some of the everyday organization, but it was great to be part of that and to help where and when I was needed."

The third trip returned to Edisto Island, S.C., to paint and put a roof on the Bethlehem United Methodist and Episcopal Church.  The group included 20 students; the Rev. Jim Mohr, Westminster chaplain; Robin Gooch, Westminster alumna and member of the Board of Trustees; and volunteer Angie Mohr, Jim's daughter who works with Cray Youth and Family Services in New Castle.

"At least half of my team had never participated in a work trip before," said Jim Mohr, who, like King and LaSor, is a veteran of many work trips.  "We provide an opportunity for our teams to grow through education, service (building, developing relationships, and learning the fine art of giving of one's self), and spiritual growth."

Gooch serves on the Board of Trustees' Church Relations and Spiritual Life Committee.  She saw the trip as an opportunity to be involved with a mission trip and to connect with a large number of students for an extended period.

"I hoped to bring a few skills to the group," Gooch said.  "Little did I know I would receive so much more than I could ever give.  Without exception, the students impressed me with their energy, generosity, and commitment to the mission as they worked as a team to help achieve goals for the lovely people of Edisto.  Without a doubt, Christian kindness, through example, lived every day of our journey."

A new element of this year's trips was the addition of students from Weaver's Broadcast Journalism class, who were required to participate not only in the service projects but also as reporters and producers.  The result of their efforts will be compiled in a video that is expected to premiere April 25 at Westminster's Undergraduate Research and Arts Celebration.

Senior Hannah Paczkowski had been on service trips with her church from middle-school age through high school.  "The best lesson is to expect the unexpected.  I didn't expect to enjoy myself as much as I did and found this experience not only sharpened my broadcasting skills, but also my faith."

Junior Ashley Durham initially looked at the trip as "just another project that I had to complete" but one that "ended up being such a wonderful experience."

"Getting to know all those wonderful people while completing service for a good cause was an unexpected reward," Durham said.  "Documenting it every day for the camera heightened the experience."

Westminster has earned President's Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll recognition every year since the program was launched in 2006.  More than 1,200 Westminster students volunteered nearly 30,000 hours last academic year (2010-2011) through academic service-learning or other community service.

Visit the Faith at Westminster Facebook page to see photos from all three trips.  Click here to read more of the participants' experiences.

Contact Westminster's Chapel Office at (724) 946-7117 for additional information.

Edisto Island team
Raleigh team
Sumter team