“We’re All Connected”: Alternative Spring Breaks Open Students’ Eyes to the World
More than 80 Fairfield students chose to spend their spring break serving others on nine trips across the country and in Nicaragua. Students raised funds from friends and family to help offset some of the costs. The trips were sponsored by Campus Ministry, the Center for Faith and Public Life, and the Office of Service Learning.
Although their projects and environments were different, the time spent working together opened students’ eyes to economic, social, and cultural differences.
Rural Renewal, Kentucky
From painting and door-hanging, to replacing walls and roofs, students participating in the Christian Appalachian Project’s “WorkFest” learned first-hand about the realities and injustices of poverty. (The group is pictured below during the regular "field trip" to Walmart.)
“I was amazed to see, despite all this poverty, the families whose homes we worked on are still so positive and happy!... I guess it comes from faith and family!” - Katie Hildebrandt '17
Urban Plunge! Los Angeles
Students saw Homeboy and Homegirl Industries programs in action and discovered the sense of community that exists for the young men and women who come through their doors seeking to leave their gang involvements behind and find hope for their futures. Participants also volunteered with other organizations in the LA area.
“Each morning we woke up at 6 a.m. and packed away our air mattress beds and belongings—our mini ‘homes’—because we were staying in a conference room of the shelter. Although it was an odd way to live for a week, the actual homeless people of LA deal with much worse on a daily basis. Yet, amazingly, many of the people our group met were so hopeful and friendly.” - Maggie Kiley '17
Navajo Water Project, Albuquerque, NM
Water is an extremely limited and precious resource in the dry and nearly barren environment of the Eastern Navajo Nation in New Mexico.
“One of the most incredible takeaways from this trip was the realization of the vast differences that are occurring within the same country we live… Throughout the week, we laid the foundation of a hagona (a traditional Navajo home); we installed a solar panel in a home that had not previously had electricity, we broke up the flooring of a second hagona… and hiked up to a 9,000-foot elevation, seeing New Mexico from uninhibited heights. Since returning back to campus, I feel as though my eyes have been opened… to the living conditions and lifestyles of those just a short plane ride away…. and I have been reminded of the boundless limits of love that exist within the world.” - Tori Schuchmann ’16
Border Crisis, Tucson, AZ (pictured above)
Students met with both the Border Patrol and the people who are directly affected by economic and immigration policies. They walked through the desert with Samaritans to leave water for travelers on the immigrant trail, and visited with organizations that provide assistance to immigrants and much more.
“I had the opportunity to live in solidarity with some of the most marginalized people in our world today. Being present and listening to immigrants’ stories opened my eyes to a world that exists on the southern border of the United States. The trip taught that every human being has a story to share and a voice that needs to be heard.” - Daniel J. Horstmann '16
International Rescue Committee: Atlanta, Georgia
A group of JUHAN students worked with the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in Georgia, where they assisted refugees in the Atlanta region in rebuilding their lives.
“While the IRC isn’t a Jesuit-based organization, the value is a universal one that they also embody. All the workers there woke up every morning committed to helping people who often didn’t speak the same language or understand other American cultural aspects. It takes a lot of courage and compassion to do that. The work of the IRC has definitely inspired me to continue to have a positive impact on my community here at Fairfield University and hopefully one day extend my service work to communities all over the world.” - Joe Harding ‘18
“I enjoyed teaching English to the refugees the most…The moment when a student would understand the meaning of a new word…gave me a feeling incomparable to anything I have ever experienced…” - Kerri Beine ’18
Washington, D.C. Immersion Trip
On this unique alternative spring break, students spent a packed four days in Washington, D.C., becoming familiar with the city and the people who run it through the eyes of Fairfield alumni living and working there. They toured the Capitol, participated in meetings hosted by congressmen, senators, legislative staffers and a variety of organizations such as the World Bank, the Department of Education and the U.S. Institute of Peace.
Among other things, in “take-aways” from the trip, students noted the number of job opportunities in the government, the value of internships and networking—especially with Fairfield alumni—and the importance of keeping hope alive despite challenges.
Fairfield students made an impression on those they met. After the visit, one representative from the U.S. Department of Education responded, “You should know that they left a lasting impression on staffers here as well. I must say that I’m utterly impressed with their level of follow-through and am looking forward to maintaining many of the connections I’ve made.”
In addition to these trips, two groups went to Managua, Nicaragua—a nursing service learning group working to address community-identified health issues, and a group who collaborated on a joint service project with the Department of Peace & Justice Studies. Another group of students enrolled in the Writing and Responding service-learning course went to New Orleans, where they learned about literacy sponsorship, the function of writing centers, and developed skills responding to writers in a variety of contexts.
As is usually the case with the Alternative Spring Breaks, students gained at least as much from the experience as those they served. The Urban Plunge group took inspiration about service from Henri Nouwen, a renowned priest and writer: "We are not called to save the world, solve all problems, and help all people. But we each have our own unique call, in our families, in our work, in our world. We have to keep asking God to help us see clearly what our call is and to give us the strength to live that call with trust. Then we will discover that our faithfulness to our small task is the most healing response to the illness of our time.”
One student, Kerri Beine ’18, said it well: “I learned that it doesn’t matter where you come from…at the end of the day we’re all connected…I may have been able to teach a few words of English to the people I met in Atlanta, but they taught me more than I could’ve imagined.”