Students depart for fall service trips

Daisy Ayllon

This past fall break, 343 students embarked on a journey across eight states and nine foreign countries to participate in a service break experience, according to Campus Ministry.

Villanova’s award-winning service programs provide students with an opportunity to serve the poor at home and abroad.

Villanovans have participated in these trips since 1976. The first year, about 40 students participated.

Today, Campus Ministry organizes fall, winter and spring service trips that include an average of 350 students each time.

“Our Villanova Habitat for Humanity campus chapter has more student participants in [fall and spring break] service trips than any other campus chapter,” said Associate Director of Campus Ministry Nancy A. Lee.

Campus Ministry offers two types of service break trips: Mission Service Experiences and Habitat for Humanity.

Habitat for Humanity participants travel to various sites to work on houses that are bought by low-income families who lack adequate housing.

A large amount of money is spent sending students on these trips. While some would argue that it is more productive sending that money and employing contractors to do the job that Habitat for Humanity participants do, the trips are more than just physical work.

“Through service and reflections, volunteers are transformed by identifying their connection with our global community as they experience another culture, spirituality and socio-economic situation,” Lee said.

Junior Zoe Degan participated for the first time in a service break trip. She learned about this opportunity from her roommate.

“She made it sound so amazing, so I looked further into it,” Degan said. “I was nervous going into it. I’ve never done something like it before. I’ve never helped anyone directly.”

The trips are meant to inspire students to learn about other cultures and to become active fighters against poverty and injustice.

As part of the experience, many groups were asked to live simply and keep the use of cell phones and technology to a minimum.

This was meant to foster more interaction among group members, according to Degan.

The service experiences can cost anywhere from $300 to $1200, according to the service break web site. Degan, along with many other participants, was awarded scholarships to be able to partake in this event.

“The application wasn’t that difficult,” said Degan. “It consisted of basic information and a few short essays asking me about my motivation for going on the trip. I was so happy when I was informed that I had been awarded the scholarship, which covered half of the costs. The only thing I have yet to provide them with is an essay describing what my experience was all about.”

According to Lee, New Horizons Habitat just named Villanova “Volunteer Group of the Year” in 2009. The Carnegie Foundation recognized Villanova for its outstanding community engagement.

Additionally, the University was one of five institutions that received the Higher Education Civic Engagement Award given by the Washington Center.

The popularity of the service break trips is so great that many students come back again and again.

During some of the meetings held prior to the trips, students who have participated in trips before say that close-knit connections are formed among group mates.

They mention, however, that the most important aspect of the trips is the opportunity to interact with those whom they are helping.

Some of the most significant life lessons, they explain, have come from the people they serve. Lee is quick to add that the students are the driving force behind all of it.

“Villanova students are dedicated to serving the poor and marginalized – locally, domestically and internationally,” Lee said. “Many students come to me with recommendations on other service sites where they have served.”