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Juniata Students Seek Out Alternative Spring Break Service Trips

(Posted March 24, 2003)

HUNTINGDON, Pa. -- While many college students this year frolicked in such spring-break havens as Daytona Beach, San Padre Island and Virginia Beach, several groups of students from Juniata College found fun in the sun by performing a variety of service projects in Georgia, North Carolina and Guatemala.

An international trip led by Henry Thurston-Griswold, professor of Spanish at Juniata, and Kelly Turlish, coordinator of community service/service learning at the college, took a group of 15 Juniata students to Guatemala over spring break.

The group met with 10 nongovernmental and community-based organizations that are working in such areas as human rights, education and sustainable development. "The students were able to see international development at the ground level," Turlish says. "Our hope is that the students will return and compare their experience to their lives in the United States, and then help educate others to create change here and abroad."

The students spent three days as volunteers at Colegio Miguel Angel Asturias, a private school for low-income students located in the city of Quetzaltenango. While at the school, they installed and networked three donated computers. In addition the Juniata students taught English as a Foreign Language classes, conducted science experiments and offered other activities for the children.

"Going to the plantaion made me question what my basic needs really are," says Katie O'Donnell., a junior from Royersford, Pa. "I saw very many horrible situations, things that I never wanted to think about or see. Yet, at the same time, we recognized the efforts of great human rights organizations and very inspiring people who give hope to the Guatemalan situation."

The group also visited San Basilio plantation, where the group met with the regional leader of the Southern Coast for the Community of Peasant Unity, an organization that helps peasants obtain legal rights to land. "We learned a great deal about Guatemala's current conditions and its history, which makes you appreciate how well the government of the United States works," Turlish says.

Another group of students from Juniata's Habitat for Humanity Club traveled to Valdosta, Ga. and framed 22 houses in less than five days. The epic building program, which is part of the 2003 Jimmy Carter Work Project, brought together 24 Juniata students with 51students from four other colleges: Washington University in St. Louis, Mo.; St. Francis University in Loretto, Pa; Valparaiso University in Valparaiso, Ind.; and the University of South Dakota. The program seeks to help eliminate substandard housing in Lowndes County, Ga. through the construction of 35 new habitat homes.

The students built frames for interior walls, which were transported to a separate building site in Valdosta. "We didn't work together as a single Juniata group so it was a great experience learning to work as teams with workers from different places," says Matt Humphrey, a senior from Phillipsburg studying information technology and co-president of Juniata's Habitat for Humanity club.

Another constructive spring break trip gave 17 Juniata students a chance to travel to Asheville, N.C. to work at Eliada Homes, a state orphanage. Together with six students from Elizabethtown College, the group put together and installed playground equipment and painted the school's gymnasium and other buildings.

"Many times at college I feel like I am focused on myself, my grades, and what is going on in my life," says Emily O'Donnell, a freshman from Royersford, Pa. "This spring break trip gave me the opportunity to serve others and make a difference."

The project also branched out into the surrounding community. The students cleaned a section of Reynolds Creek, a polluted tributary of the French Broad River. The team removed 12 refrigerators, 30 car tires, car batteries and several tons of smaller trash items from the banks of the creek. The students also worked at MANNA, a second harvest food bank that gleans fruits and vegetables from harvested farm fields. The students helped glean and organize foods, so donated items could be sent to local soup kitchens.

"The students were willing to volunteer their time but as the week went on they also were able to ask deeper questions about what conditions produced some of the projects we were working on," says Hillary Sherman, PACC-Americorps VISTA coordinator, who led the group on their trip.


Contact John Wall at wallj@juniata.edu or (814) 641-3132 for more information.