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Spreading love ‘one nail, bandage, shovelful’ at a time

Friday, March 3, 2017

Two Mercyhurst University groups will head south of the border for spring break, but they won’t be spending time on Mexico’s sunny beaches.

Instead they’ll provide service to the people of Merida and Valladolid, two cities about 100 miles apart on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula.

They are among several groups of Mercyhurst students spending their spring break (March 4-12) being ambassadors of service to others. As Bethany Brun says, they’ll be spreading the love one nail, bandage or shovelful of dirt at a time.

Brun, coordinator of service learning at Mercyhurst, says these alternative spring break trips allow students to immerse themselves in a community or culture other than their own and make a difference in the lives of people within that community. 

Five students – all Spanish majors or minors – will accompany Dr. Alice Edwards to the Mission of Friendship in Merida to do service work at the mission sponsored by the Erie Catholic Diocese.

Besides helping with building projects, painting and repairs, the group will help out at a home for the indigent elderly, a day care center, a boarding house for girls and a medical dispensary. Edwards also builds in special experiences that match each student’s interests, this year including a Spanish education major who’ll be collecting items for his future classroom and an archaeology major who’ll get to explore the nearby Mayan ruins.

Edwards, a professor of world languages and cultures, has been taking groups to the mission periodically since 1990. This year’s trip is funded in part by a generous donation from alumna Sara Jaeks '04, who went on the same mission trip with Dr. Edwards as an undergrad.

Dr. Scott Michel, assistant professor and program director for athletic training, and Colin Hurley, director of community engagement, are coordinating the Valladolid trip. The dozen students taking part are mostly athletic training and public health majors, along with one adult nursing student. They’ll join a Chosen International Medical Assistance mission involving nearly 20 health professionals from the Erie area.

The students will observe a wide array of orthopedic surgeries (including conditions rarely seen in the U.S.) and accompany allied health clinicians providing rehabilitation services to the local people, from common bone and joint conditions to cerebral palsy and MS.  It will be a cultural immersion experience while being exposed to medicine in a developing country that is resource-challenged.  

Explains Hurley, “They’ll not only have a world-class learning experience alongside a team of local Erie surgeons, residents, nurses, physical therapists, etc., but they’ll be immersed together in an environment that challenges them to put their Mercy education and the core values into practice. I expect this trip to challenge all of us and our notion of service and poverty.”

Stateside, Brun and student life administrator Cariel Lewis will take four students to Detroit, Michigan. While in the Motor City, they’ll work with Neighbors Building Brightmoor, a community organization whose mission is to reduce urban blight via urban farming and land reclamation. The group will also be able to explore the city, including a tour of the Ford Rouge factory, where they’ll see a Ford F150 built from start to finish.

Graphic designer Jeremy Hewitt, who advises the university’s chapter of Habitat for Humanity, will travel with nine students to Raleigh, North Carolina. They’ll spend several days working on a Habitat home under construction in the city.

They’ll also work for two days at Raleigh’s Habitat warehouse, building walls that will be ready for the busy summer building season.

In addition to the service trips, two student groups will head to Europe during the mid-semester break.

A dozen students in Dr. Brett Johnson’s “London & Paris: Theatre in Context” course have spent the past six weeks analyzing British and French plays and the theatrical, literary, social and political worlds in which they were written.

During spring break March 4-11 they’ll experience those worlds live and in person. In London, they’ll visit the British Museum, the Tower of London and Windsor Castle; take a Shakespeare walking tour and a backstage tour of the Globe Theatre; and enjoy productions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Young Vic and The Woman in Black at the Fortune Theatre. Their Paris itinerary includes Versailles, Opera Garnier, Notre Dame, the Louvre and a show at the Moulin Rouge.

Visiting Norwich, England, will be 13 dance majors who perform with Mercyhurst’s Liturgical Dance Ensemble. They’ll be accompanied by C. Noelle Partusch, associate professor of dance and co-vice president of the Sacred Dance Guild, and dance department administrative assistant Danielle Kaiser.

The dancers will perform in an hour-long concert at West Acre Theatre on March 7, and also during a worship service at St. James the Great Church in Castle Acre and a community workshop on sacred dance. They are taking eight pieces of choreography, six of which are the work of Partusch. Students Sarah Ruesch and Lacey Gigliotti also choreographed works for the performance.

After their performance commitments, the dancers will spend three days in London, exploring museums, historical sites and the Royal Opera House, home of The Royal Ballet.


Participants in last year’s medical mission trip to Mexico include, from left, Dr. Scott Michel, assistant professor and program director for athletic training; athletic training student Megan Burlage (who’s making the trip again this year); and Danielle Pacansky, a 2016 graduate who returned to Mercyhurst this year as an AmeriCorps VISTA in community engagement.