Students Ready For Spring Service Trips

Hundreds to work with poor over break

By Mark Sullivan
Staff Writer

The 1997 spring break will see Boston College once again reach out to the poorest of the poor, with hundreds of students using their time off to build homes for needy families, help care for the sick and destitute, and serve many others in locales stretching from Boston to the rural South to Central America.

Spring break service programs have become well-established and popular on campus over the past decade, administrators and staff say. The work may be demanding but is greatly appreciated, and students "always say they get more than they give" from the experience, said University Chaplaincy Office administrator Mary Hehir, who helps coordinate the annual Appalachian Volunteers program.

Students have relied on a series of fund-raising efforts to meet travel expenses, operating raffles, soliciting church donations, running concessions at athletic events, offering a valentine delivery service and organizing "point" drives - in which students donate money from their Dining Services accounts.

This year's Appalachian Volunteers trip has attracted 274 students, who will travel in 21 rented vans to 14 different sites across the mountain regions of West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky and Georgia to work as tutors, assist at shelters and help Habitat for Humanity build houses. The volunteers will leave tomorrow after a special Mass at St. Joseph's Chapel celebrated by Academic Vice President and Dean of Faculties William B. Neenan, SJ, and will return on March 8.

Hehir said last week the volunteers had raised almost all of the $60,000 needed to finance the trip.

In addition to the Appalachian program, several smaller groups are preparing to travel to places like Jamaica, Nicaragua, Cape Verde and a New Mexico Indian reservation, where they will provide community service while immersing themselves in local culture.

The Ignacio Volunteers program, now in its seventh year, will send a group of 20 students and faculty to a Jesuit retreat house at St. George's College in Kingston, Jamaica from March 1-9. Ignacio Volunteers Director Theodore Dziak, SJ, said the volunteers will help the Missionaries of Charity, Mother Teresa's order, tend to the sick and dying at a Kingston shelter. They also will teach at a school for children living in a shanty town on the Kingston city dump, assist at a community health center and visit a home for lepers.

The trip is an eye-opening experience for the students, who begin to grasp the plight of the poor, even if they can do little in a week to change it, said Fr. Dziak. "What we bring back is almost more important than what we bring there," he said.

The College of Arts and Sciences Faith, Peace and Justice Program will sponsor a return trip to a Navajo reservation in Albuquerque, NM, from Feb. 28 to March 8, where 10 volunteers will serve elderly residents and learn about the culture. Students traveled to the reservation in January, where they chopped wood, painted classrooms and helped elderly members of the community winterize their homes, according to program coordinator Adj. Instr. Matthew Mullane (Theology).

Mullane said student participants "get an insight into the fact that, despite the physical poverty, the culture is very rich. The question comes up: Are they poor, or are we poor?"

During the same period, a group of 15 students and staff in the Nicaraguan Immersion Program will live among the peasants of one of the poorest countries in the hemisphere. Volunteers will take part in the daily work of their hosts in Managua and the outlying countryside, who "share their lives with us," said Chaplain Paula Norbert, a coordinator for the trip.

The Cape Verdean Student Association will sponsor a trip for 25 students to Cape Verde over spring break. Dean for Student Development Robert Sherwood, who led a similar trip last year, said the volunteers will assist at a hospital and participate in community life.

Also, 14 Law School students traveled to Haiti during the school's spring break last week. The students volunteered at a Port au Prince shelter run by the Missionaries of Charity and at a rural clinic.

Locally, the Chaplaincy's Urban Immersion Program will send about 25 students to assist in outreach services and refurbishment projects in Boston. Among the placement sites are the Greater Boston Food Bank, Little Brothers/Friends of the Elderly, the Compass School (an alternative treatment school for youth unable to attend public school) and St.Francis House, a day shelter.

Urban Immersion students also participate in discussions on contemporary social justice issues, such as homelessness and the economics of hunger.

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