Groups of Saint Anselm College students traveled to eight regions of the U.S. in January for "Winter Break Alternative" (WBA). The 108 students volunteered at sites in Appalachia, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, Arizona, Washington, D.C., and Staten Island, N.Y. as part of the college's Service and Solidarity Mission Program, now its 26th year.
"These trips help with the formation of our students and give them an opportunity to explore their spirituality, the meaning of life, and how they interact with others," said Director ofCampus Ministry Susan Gabert. "The cultural immersion for students is really important because they learn about the world outside of the college."
A new site for the program this year was Project Hospitality in Staten Island, NY. Led by senior biochemistry major Elisha Griffin and senior nursing major Elaina De Mello, the Saint Anselm students cleaned up areas affected by massive flooding from Hurricane Sandy. They also supported the Staten Island Community Serving Center by preparing and distributing meals and working in the food pantry.
The trip was Griffin's first as a leader of a WBA group, though she participated in a previous trip to Washington D.C.
"The direct service aspect of this trip was what I was looking forward to the most. I think that the participants learned a lot of very different but valuable lessons from this type of experience," said Griffin.
Training was extensive for the 16 WBA leaders (two for each of eight sites). Following selection last April, they attended weekly meetings and two weekend retreats. Their training covered skills in crisis management, diversity and cultural sensitivity, guest etiquette, communication with their sites, budgeting, and fundraising.
Leaders also learned to spur conversation and to provide a comfortable environment for team members. At the end of each day at a work site they guided their student groups in reflection sessions. These evening meetings included discussions about personal transformation, education, awareness, applying what they have learned and how their work makes a difference.
Griffin noted, "I hope I aided my participants in seeing a wider scope of humanity and that it really opened their eyes beyond the life we live at Saint Anselm College. I hope I helped them to value the little things in life and to share their knowledge and new-found awareness with their friends when they return."
Gabert encouraged the new and returning volunteers to attend trips with open minds and hearts, and said she believed they will take away lasting and significant lessons from their experiences.
"This hopefully taught them what it means to be human and how to respect the dignity of others," said Gabert.
WBA volunteers returned to Saint Anselm on Saturday, January 16th. Follow along with photos and read updates from their college blog.