Students embrace service trips, from New Jersey to Haiti & beyond

Whether it's driving a few hours over the border to lend a helping hand or booking a flight overseas to provide aid, when service is at the heart of your mission, you give back when and where you can.

For Mercyhurst University, that means rallying nearly 50 students, faculty and staff and sending them in four different directions — Bridgeton, N.J.; Gressier, Haiti; Union County, N.C.; and Tupelo, Miss. — to volunteer as part of the university’s annual alternative spring break program, headed by Service Learning and Campus Ministry.

“To serve with a team in a new place gives you a whole new perspective on life,” said Colin Hurley, director of Service Learning at Mercyhurst. “Sweating together, crying together, learning and growing together; service is a really unique experience that you’ll remember for a lifetime.”

As a social work major and member of the AmeriCorps*Vista group MUSCLEs, sophomore Kara Stromyer has put in her share of community service hours — 300 annually, to be exact. But when Hurricane Sandy hit a little too close to home, she knew she had to make time to volunteer. Led by Jenell Patton, outreach coordinator for Campus Ministry, Stromyer will join 10 other Mercyhurst students at a town outside of Atlantic City from Feb. 21-24 to help with demolition and debris clearing.

“When Hurricane Sandy hit, I literally saw my best friend, Michelle Farley, in tears worrying about her family who lives in New Jersey,” said Stromyer. “Fortunately, her friends and family were fine, but a lot of people lost their homes. It was very hard to watch someone you love go through such a devastating event. Hopefully this trip can make some kind of impact.”

At 19, freshman Kaitlin Harnden, an athletic training and physical therapy double major, volunteered to fly 1,704 miles to a country that was also ravaged by Mother Earth. On her first weeklong, overseas mission trip to Haiti, Harnden will join Hurley; students Katie Jobczynski and Rhona Boyle; Doug Boudreau, Ph.D., associate professor of World Cultures, and 15 members of Hurley’s congregation from the Church of the Cross in Fairview. The team is set to leave February 21 for Haiti, where they will help rebuild a church and a school.

“Volunteering is such a big deal at Mercyhurst, so I really wanted to get involved with it,” said Harnden. “There is no way you could regret anything you do to give back. It changes your life instantly, and it's so rewarding for everyone.”

On Feb. 24, a group of 33 will head southward on two separate Habitat for Humanity trips — one to North Carolina led by Sheila Richter, coordinator of Institutional Research; the other to Mississipi, led by Greg Baker, director of Campus Ministry. The groups will return on March 2.

“For most Habitat trips, we work an entire week from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.,” said Katy Adams, a junior forensics and biochemistry double major, who has been on the local Habitat chapter's board for two years. “The best part of Habitat is that it's a different experience at each affiliate site. When you get to the site, there's nothing. To start the foundation, to put up walls and hang drywall, to watch the order of an entire house go up from start to finish is an awesome feeling.”

While volunteering for Habitat for Humanity is rigorous, exhausting work, most students agree that besides the rewarding feeling they get, it's also fun.

“I'll admit, it's also a good time; you get to be there with friends,” said Alex Vinesky, a junior intelligence studies major, who will be joining 11 others to Mississippi. “While it’s mostly about work; you're also exposed to different people and you get to open your eyes to new perspectives. I enjoy giving back to the community; others have always been gracious to me, so why not give back?”

Students who are interested in getting involved with volunteer opportunities or participating in mission trips on campus may contact the Service Learning office at 824-2471, or Campus Ministry at 824-2429.

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