Students to Focus on Service Experiences Over Spring Break

Students to Focus on Service Experiences Over Spring Break

Thirty Buena Vista University (BVU) students will be heading to three far-flung destinations — Haiti, the Grand Canyon, and Seattle — over spring break, March 25-April 1, with a focus on service work.

This is the 14th year for BVU's Alternative Week of Off-site Learning (AWOL). Since the program began, over 375 volunteers — including students and their faculty and staff advisors — have traveled 100,000 miles to provide 14,000 hours of service.

The purpose of AWOL is to immerse students in different cultures, heightened social awareness, and to advocate life-long social action through service on a local, regional, national and international level.

This is the 14th year for Alternative Week of Off-site Learning at BVU. Since the program began, over 375 volunteers have traveled 100000 miles to provide 14000 hours of service.

"AWOL is an experience of a lifetime. I have personally been on close to 30 service trips as a BVU student or staff member and every single one touched my life differently," says Dr. Ashley Farmer-Hanson, director of civic engagement. "Every student goes on these trips to serve others and to give back. What they realize after the trip is that they get so much more than what they give. Students come back with a new outlook on life; some come back with strengthened faith."

The destinations and social focus of the trips this year are:

Haiti: Students will work with impoverished children living at an orphanage in Port Au Prince. The orphanage is supported by an Iowa-based organization, "LOVE Takes Root," which grew out of a 2010 medical mission trip to Haiti taken by Dr. Rick Wilkerson, an orthopedic surgeon from Spencer who is one of the team physicians for BVU athletics and medical director of BVU's athletic training education program.

Grand Canyon: The students will volunteer with The Grand Canyon Trust, based in Flagstaff, Ariz., a conservation organization that has a mission of protecting and restoring the Colorado Plateau. Students will be involved in environmental and social justice issues and have the opportunity to work with the Hopi and Navajo tribes. One of their projects will be installation of solar panels at the homes of two families, which is the first time such a project has been done by an AWOL group.

Seattle: Students will explore the issues of hunger and homelessness through work at a homeless shelter, and assisting at a donated food warehouse and other non-profit organizations. A visit to a tent city for homeless families and individuals is also planned.

Farmer-Hanson says a lot of thought and research goes into the selection of AWOL sites. "We really want to make sure we have a variety of trip and service options to appeal to a larger student population. This process to select trips for the upcoming year starts immediately following AWOL trips and takes about four months to finalize," she says.

"We sit down and discuss requests we get from the student body and their needs. Many students, faculty, and staff send me trip ideas and I share those ideas with our AWOL student leaders. As a group, we discuss the social focus of the trips first and then narrow down the list of possible sites. We then select locations and do research on the service organizations. Many of the organizations being considered have an application process we have to complete before a trip can be approved."

This year's locations were selected for a variety of reasons, she notes. "The focus of the Seattle trip, which has also been the location of previous AWOL trips, is hunger and homelessness and students are very eager to serve this population and to learn from them. The Grand Canyon Trust was selected to expose students to a different culture as well as a different type of environmental service. The orphanage in Haiti was chosen because there is always a high interest in working with children and its humanitarian mission aligns with AWOL values and goals."

To finance the AWOL trips, students sponsored various group fundraising projects during the academic year. Some students also raised money from their churches and other sources. BVU subsidizes part of the cost through the The Rev. Henry G. Eggink and Lucile Eggink Endowment, which was created to enhance student mission work.