Students volunteer during spring break

Ahh … spring break. A time for relaxation, rejuvenation and fun. Or, for many WUSTL students, a time for hard work, reflection and a greater sense of purpose.

Hundreds of students will spend the break, which begins Monday, March 10, and extends through March 16, on service trips in places as far away as Buenos Aires, Argentina, and as close as downtown St. Louis.

Several students traveled to Belize last spring break with a Campus Y trip. Tara Singh (left), now a junior majoring in psychology in Arts & Sciences, helped tutor children in a Belize City YMCA.

“We’re thrilled to see the diversity, quality and number of service trips this year and hope to see continued growth in upcoming years,” said Stephanie Kurtzman, director of the Community Service Office and associate director of the Richard A. Gephardt Institute for Public Service. “Service trips provide a wonderful opportunity for students as well as staff and faculty to do something meaningful during a vacation that can have great community impact and transform one’s life perspective at the same time.”

Sophomore Natalie Kress, a biology major in Arts & Sciences, will travel to Texas with 11 other WUSTL undergraduates as part of the Latin Empowerment Team.

“Although our focus will primarily be the education of Latino youth, we have placed an emphasis this year on reaching out to all low-income minority students,” Kress said. “Our group hopes to empower young, mostly low-income, minority students to go to college.”

Freshman David Warnock has previously volunteered in the Gulf Coast in the wake of the devastation from Hurricane Katrina. He’ll be going back this year to Hancock County, Miss., to help with the continued clean-up process.

“I feel it is important to go back because there is still work to do,” he said. “I had originally planned to go as a staff member again, but I realized that this was the perfect opportunity to bring other interested people with me. It is my hope that people come back from the trip with nothing but the best experiences.”

Chrissie Skelley, 2007 WUSTL alumna and intern at the Catholic Student Center, will lead a group of 15 students to Harlan, Ky., to do housing construction and rehab.

“The mission of our host organization, Christian Outreach with Appalachian People (COAP), is to provide safe, warm and dry housing for and with low-income residents, with clients paying according to their financial situation,” Skelley said. “We will help COAP’s clients directly, learn about poverty in the region and experience its history and culture through activities such as visiting a coal mining museum and nearby state parks.”

The St. Louis Hillel at Washington University will sponsor a service trip for 13 WUSTL students to the Gulf Coast region to assist with the ongoing rebuilding effort while engaging students in Jewish reflection.

“Our trip is part of a larger program sponsored by Hillel International to bring Jewish college students to the Gulf Coast for a Hurricane Katrina rebuilding effort,” said Jessica Manela Litwack, Jewish student life coordinator at the St. Louis Hillel. “More than 1,600 students from all over the United States will gather from January through March to partner with local agencies as they continue the hard work to recover from the devastation.”

Among other service trips:

• A Campus Y group will build bunk beds at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.

• An International Law Society group will help at the Chase Educational Center in Buenos Aires and Salta, Argentina.

• Members of Intercambios, a WUSTL tutoring and mentoring group for Hispanic middle and high-school students, will partner with an elementary school in LaFortuna, Costa Rica, for a cultural exchange.

• WUSTL Habitat for Humanity will help rebuild homes in New Orleans.

• The School of Medicine Forum for International Health and Tropical Medicine will provide medical service in Honduras.

• Intervarsity Christian Fellowship will do mission work in St. Louis.

Spring break trips are set for this year, but anyone interested in organizing a volunteer service trip next year should contact Kurtzman at 935-5066.