Several Buena Vista University students participated in this year’s AWOL (Alternative Week of Off-site Learning) program. Four trips were offered to students this year, enabling them to volunteer their time and service to a variety of people and programs.
Here is a selection of comments from students and trip advisors who participated in AWOL:
Pine Ridge Reservation Immersion
Several students headed to southwestern South Dakota to work with the Oglala Lakota tribe. For six days, the group volunteered at the Pine Ridge Reservation—one of the poorest areas in the United States—by assisting with various home repair projects including building decks and ramps on homes, trailers and buildings. The students also visited the Wounded Knee massacre grave, toured the Badlands National Park, and learned about the history and culture of the Oglala Lakota tribe.
Kevin Coriolan, a sophomore corporate communications major from Worthington, Minn., says the Pine Ridge experience influenced his future ambitions. “I am now very interested in the history and current culture of Native Americans,” he says. “A passion has flourished within me to use my knowledge to help those in poverty.”
“I think one of the greatest things that students took away from the trip is a great understanding of, and appreciation for, the Oglala Lakota tribe including their history and their struggles,” says Mark Shea, director of student success at BVU and a co-advisor of the trip. “I hope the students left as richer people because of this experience, not monetarily, but emotionally and intellectually.”
The AWOL trip to Heifer Ranch in Perryville, Ark., allowed BVU students the unique opportunity to explore issues surrounding hunger, poverty and sustainability. While there, students took part in various team building exercises and group simulations to learn more about these global issues. The group also helped the Heifer Ranch staff throughout the week with maintenance projects, livestock chores and gardening.
Gwendolyn Walton, a sophomore biology and psychology double major from Granger, says the AWOL trip gave her a new perspective on daily tasks. “This experience reminded me of how blessed I am,” she says. “I am now much more conscientious of my actions and try to waste as little as possible.”
“The education that we received on the ranch in regards to hunger and poverty was just as important as the service we did,” says Courtney Berg, assistant controller at BVU and co-advisor of the trip. “I hope students use this experience to analyze everything that they do in their personal lives more closely.”
Hunger and Homelessness
Several students ventured to Chicago where they provided service to a variety of individuals and programs. Throughout the week, the group assisted with a soccer camp for children, prepared and distributed care packages for the homeless, and participated in service activities at By The Hand, an after-school program for children located in four of Chicago’s impoverished inner-city communities.
“I knew when I walked into By the Hand that I needed to be there, in an outreach center, giving my service to children in need of love, attention and care,” says Caitlin Hoffman, a sophomore communications studies major from Sioux City. “Seeing underprivileged youth interact in a community center was so powerful.”
Ken Meissner, BVU chaplain and co-advisor of the trip, hopes the Chicago experience had a lasting impact on students. “It is essential to develop the skills and life-habit of giving and sharing your time, talents and gifts with the rest of humankind,” he says. “I think that by exposing students to social issues such as hunger, poverty and homelessness, they can begin to explore the possibilities of serving others through their chosen vocation or career.”
Children and Poverty: Mystery Trip
AWOL’s “mystery” location took students to Dallas, Texas, where they volunteered at Bryan’s House, a child care facility for children living with physical and health challenges. While there, the group participated in a number of service projects including yard work, assisting teachers, and creating an Easter egg hunt for the children.
Caitlin Hof, a sophomore biochemistry, biology, chemistry and psychology quadruple major from Yankton, S.D., says the experience had an impact on her professional aspirations. “The trip showed me how much I love working with children with special needs,” she says. “I have known that I want to go into medicine, but the trip confirmed that I would really like to somehow incorporate children into my plans.”
“I hope the trip empowered students to continue to serve others,” says Ashley Farmer-Hanson, director of civic engagement at BVU and co-advisor of the trip. “Anyone can go on a trip, but not all individuals can go on a service trip and not only make an impact on the region they are serving, but also learn from it and go on to serve and teach others the importance of giving back to the world.”
Learn more about BVU’s alternative spring break program.