Students choose service over sun for spring break

More than 200 WUSTL students will be using their spring breaks not for lounging on the beach but for serving communities around the globe.

Eighteen separate groups of students will travel to places as close as suburban St. Louis and as far away as Hanoi, Vietnam, to help with service projects ranging from home building and urban renewal to college mentorship and medical assistance.

“It’s incredible to see what our student leaders come up with and the caliber of their projects,” said Stephanie Kurtzman, director of the Community Service Office and associate director of the Richard A. Gephardt Institute for Public Service. “Our office is not organizing any of these trips, but we are trying to support their growth and have recently seen an increase in the number of winter, summer and even fall trips.

“We know what an incredible learning experience these trips are for students and how deeply impactful the trips are for them and the communities they serve,” Kurtzman said.

Junior Natalie Kress, a member of WUSTL’s Latino Empowerment Team, will travel with the group to Brownsville, Texas, to encourage underserved Latino high-school students to pursue higher education.

“We will talk about obstacles that Latinos face when applying to college,” Kress said. “We want to motivate students to think positively about the future.”

The group will provide information about financial aid, the application process and scholarship opportunities.

Junior Raina Hall will be joining a Campus Y group on a trip to Pine Ridge, S.D., to work with the Oglala Lakota people on a Native American reservation. The trip is supported by the Gephardt Institute.

The students will be working with a nonprofit group called Re-Member to build bunk beds, repair houses and interact with locals.

“I think this is an incredibly valuable way to spend my break,” she said. “It will be a wonderful immersion experience that provides an opportunity to learn about another culture within our own nation.”

Senior Kaity Mattos will be traveling to Trujillo, Peru, with four other undergraduates who are all involved in Alpha Phi Omega, WUSTL’s national co-ed community service fraternity.

The group will be working with Beneficencia Publica, a child-care program for low-income families in Trujillo, a coastal town. They will focus on developing early literacy and motor skills with the children and be part of other ongoing projects led by students from other universities.

Mattos decided to get involved with the trip for the community service and cultural aspects. She wanted to learn what it means to help the community in another country and to understand how the definition of service changes from place to place.

“Alpha Phi Omega as a national organization is always searching to expand its service efforts and work in new areas, so our group is excited to cross boundaries and make connections with people and organizations abroad as part of this effort,” Mattos said.

Among other service trips:

• A group of students from Brookings Residential College in the South 40 will travel to Huntsville, Ala., to help with a Habitat for Humanity home building project.

• Ervin Scholars will volunteer in nearby Kinloch, Mo., to work with the Kinloch Learning Center.

• The Danforth Scholars will work with Habitat for Humanity in Biloxi, Miss.

• Members of the International Law Society will travel to Hanoi, Vietnam, to work with Volunteers for Peace: Vietnam.

• WUSTL’s chapter of Engineers Without Borders will volunteer with Meds & Food For Kids in Cap Haitien, Haiti.

Spring break trips are set for this year, but anyone interested in organizing a volunteer service trip next year should contact Sarah Tillery at 935-3943.