Project supervisors say student participants may find these week-long experiences become the prelude for an enduring commitment to those in need.
"The best effects of the immersion projects are often those that are felt way down the road," said Campus Minister Melissa Kelley, who helps oversee the largest spring break volunteer activity, the Appalachia Volunteer Program, which this year has a record 540 participants.
"We have alumni who have participated in these programs who have literally been transformed," she said. "Some have come back to school and changed their majors or even their whole focus on life."
The Appalachia service group will visit 29 sites in New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Mississippi. Approximately half of the students will assist Habitat for Humanity housebuilding projects, providing labor and building materials, while the other half will be assigned to a number of small communities where, Kelley said, "they will be doing whatever is needed."
The Appalachia group raised more than $150,000 to fund the service project primarily through Dining Service point drives and a raffle ticket sale, she said, and each student has contributed an additional $20 to cover the trip's costs.
Campus Minister Daniel Leahy will lead a group of 25 students to inner-city Boston, where they will assist at five different social service agencies during the vacation week. The placements will include the Greater Boston Food Bank; St. Francis House, a multi-service agency; Haley House, a local soup kitchen; Little Brothers-Friends of the Elderly program; and Rosie's Place, a shelter for women.
Each day, the students will return to Our Lady of Lourdes Convent in Jamaica Plain to cook and serve an evening meal, hear speakers and share in reflections and prayers regarding their work, Leahy said.
A contingent of 14 students in the Ignacio Volunteers program will stay in Kingston, Jamaica, where they will assist outreach and social ministries run by Franciscan nuns and Jesuit priests, including homes for abandoned and abused children and the elderly, and a residential construction project.
Students will also visit with people working in Kingston to learn more about the political realities that have shaped the social service policies in a region beset by government turmoil, according to Campus Minister Evan Cuthbert, coordinator for Ignacio Volunteers.
"We want to integrate this trip into their Boston College experience," Cuthbert said, "and connect it to other things in the course of their studies."
Campus Minister Daniel Ponsetto and Assoc. Prof. Stephen Pope (Theology) will supervise 12 undergraduates and a graduate student working in El Salvador, which is still recovering from the devastating earthquake of a year ago.
In addition to physical labor, part of the group's service will include "theraputic listening," Ponsetto said. "It is a community where everyone has suffered terrible losses. We can offer solidarity with the people and bring their stories back to others."
Ethan Sullivan, assistant director of the First Year Experience program, and Stephen Dosch '98, a former resident of Nicaragua, will lead 14 student volunteers on a service trip to that Central American nation during the break period.
Beyond the Campus Ministry-sponsored service projects, a number of other students will dedicate their March vacation to helping those in need.
Student members of Intervarsity Christian Fellowship will undertake service work in Boston's Dorchester neighborhood and the Chi Alpha fraternal group will send students to staff service projects in Newark, NJ.
Other students will volunteer at the Borderlines project in Tucson, Ariz., which provides assistance to service agencies on the Arizona-Mexico border. Undergraduates also will participate in the "Gimme A Break" program, sponsored by the Sisters of the Congregation of Notre Dame, where they will assist the nuns in various service projects, from working with Native American citizens to tutoring in schools run by the congregation.
In still another non-traditional vacation activity, eight Boston College students will travel to Taize, France, and join in efforts to integrate a modern form of chant into Catholic liturgy.
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