Making Connections: A Different Kind of Spring Break
While most Fairfield students were home with family, or on the beach in Mexico, or even witnessing the announcement of the new Pope, about 50 students and 10 faculty and staff traveled to Kentucky, New Orleans, Virginia, Miami, and even El Salvador to serve and be with others during their spring breaks in March.
It was a powerful service experience for all the groups, whether rebuilding houses, repairing hiking trails, serving in a soup kitchen, or living in solidarity for a few days with residents of a village in El Salvador. Here are a few testimonies from participants.
Jim Fitzpatrick ’70, assistant vice president of student affairs, and Todd Pelazza, director of public safety, co-led a group of students to the “hollers” of eastern Kentucky, one of the poorest areas in the U.S. “This was my eleventh trip,” said Fitzpatrick. “I’ve never been as cold in my life on a work site; however, the hard work, dedication and compassion of our eight students would not let us get discouraged!”
Katie Martin ’14 was a student leader on that trip. “I was so happy with our group. We laughed, we reflected, and I'm proud of everyone for how much of themselves they put into serving the people of Martin, Ky., and surrounding areas. The freak snow storm with the biggest snowflakes I've ever seen couldn't even deter us; we worked hard and had fun doing it!”
“My heart wants to say ‘Thank You’ for every little blessing it has felt because of you all,” wrote a woman named Peggy, for whom the Kentucky group installed a new roof and floor.
The Miami group worked at the Missionaries of Charity soup kitchen, taught school children at the Yvonne Learning Center, and did some construction work with a non-profit agency in “Little Haiti.”
“The trip was humbling,” said Jessica Estrada ’15, one the ten students and two faculty leaders on the trip. “We slept on the floor in a Lutheran Church for six nights, living out of a single suitcase without clean clothes every day. We were immersed in a sea of cultures, and made connections with people in the true Miami—beyond the flashy sports cars and pricey hotels of South Beach.”
The Virginia crew spent their time repairing trails at Lake Anna State Park in the northern part of the state. “I usually do service working with troubled youth and rebuilding families. I enjoyed going to Virginia because it was different for me,” said Durell Snow ’14, who has participated in several service trips. “Not only were we able to do hands-on work in the environment, but we also built relationships with the Lake Ana park rangers. By listening to their stories and assisting where needed, I think we were in a sense able to hit two birds with one stone. We learned a lot by simply working and listening to them.”
Fairfield University has been travelling to New Orleans regularly to help in the rebuilding of the city after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. This year, Rev. Charles Allen, S.J., Katie Coutu, and a team of 10 students worked with Camp Restore.
While living in barracks at the Missouri Synod Lutheran Church just north of New Orleans Ninth Ward, the group spent each day at a different work site. The various works involved: sorting Mardi Gras beads at ARC, which helps those suffering from intellectual limitations; grounds work and painting around the Lutheran church; working on a farm for abandoned horses; working on a tree farm; and helping set up a local fair in Saint Bernard Parish. There were also some wonderful moments spent in the French Quarter.
Torn apart by a 12-year civil war from 1979 to 1992, many families in El Salvador were torn apart. Accompanied by CRISPAZ, Christians for Peace in El Salvador, Fairfield students spent their week absorbing the culture, and listening and reflecting on the stories they heard. Although the group spent most of the week in the capital city of San Salvador, they also spent two nights with a community in the countryside of Marianela—without running water, toilets, showers, technology, or their own personal space.
“What I learned most is how interconnected everyone is,” noted Shaylin Perez ’13. “Although we weren't building homes or renovating a school, we were learning the complicated history of a country unlike our own. The native Salvadorians simply appreciated the fact that we took a week of vacation time to immerse ourselves in their culture and learn something new. This experience has given me a new lens on how to view and engage my upcoming year of service.”
“Campus Ministry has been orchestrating these trips for 22 years now,” said Rev. George Collins, S.J., director of Campus Ministry. “It’s always so great to see how the students are moved by their experiences. They may go thinking they are helping others—and, indeed, they do—but they are also served.”
For more information about participating in a spring break immersion trip next year, contact the Campus Ministry office.