Alternative service breaks emphasize Merrimack values

Over the past winter break, 35 Merrimack College students participated in either Alternative Winter Break (AWB) trips or an International Service Immersion to serve those in need.

Three trips were offered during winter break, from Jan. 9 to 17. Two were domestic experiences: Romero Center Ministries in Camden, N.J., and Youth Service Opportunities Program in Washington, D.C. Campus Ministry also offered an International Service Immersion experience to Kingston, Jamaica during the same period.

The purpose of alternative break trips stems from the mission of the college: enlighten minds, engage hearts and empower lives.

“AWB enlightens minds by opening students to consider new and different perspectives on issues such as poverty, hunger, homelessness, and other social justice issues that they may not have considered,” said Jeffrey Wallace, campus minister, who joined the Kingston trip.

“It engages their hearts because it emphasizes building relationships with the people and communities where we serve, rather than merely providing a service for that community,” he said. “Finally, it empowers lives because it provides students with an experience that will continue to challenge them to reach out to others with open hearts and open minds throughout their time here at Merrimack and beyond.”

Each of these trips included different forms of service.

In Camden, “this included homeless outreach, working in soup kitchens, visiting inner-city preschools, helping the elderly in the local nursing homes, and any other type of service that was needed,” according to Bethany Gomes, one of the student leaders for the Camden experience.

In Washington “Youth Service Opportunities Project organized four days’ worth of sites for us at a variety of soup kitchens, elderly homes, homeless shelters, and food banks. We were also able to help tutor children in reading in an area that struggled with segregation and reading level,” as said Kerry Phelan, one of the trip’s student leaders.

During the Kingston experience, the members “worked close with Mustard Seed Communities, an organization that takes in abandoned children and adults with different physical and mental disabilities. Most days we spent time with the residents at Mustard Seed, helping them feed and watch the residents. We also spent time playing with them and providing the one on one attention that they might not otherwise have,” said Michela Salvucci, a student leader on the trip.

While conducting various service activities at the three locations, all the student leaders said they were touched by their experience.

“I think it’s safe to say that AWB has changed the way I view the world. I have seen poverty both internationally as well as domestically. I have challenged myself spiritually, emotionally, and mentally. I have met people who have made me want to change the world and who have inspired me to be the best person I can be,” said Gomes.

Alternative Break trips are scheduled in the winter and spring, and International Service Immersion experiences are offered in winter, spring, and summer. This spring, Alternative Break trips are happening at Camden; Baltimore, Md.; Almost Heaven Habitat for Humanity in West Virginia; Lantz Farm, W.V.; New Orleans, La.;, and San Diego, Calif. The spring International Service Immersion experience will take place in Lima, Peru and the summer one will take place in Guayaquil, Ecuador.

See Grace J. Palmisano Center for Campus Ministry for more information on the different service opportunities offered.



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