Spring Break Service Trips Impact Buena Vista University Students

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Students from Buena Vista University spent their 2015 spring break giving back to others through volunteering on service trips in Utah, Louisiana, Georgia and Nicaragua

Front row, l-r: Ariana Rodriguez, Jasmine Bautista, Sloane Morrow, Erin Morley, Mark Timko, Lori Berglund. Back row, l-r: Miranda Pollock, Zach Ahrens, Tarynne Kinghorn, Natalie Bellairs, Taylor Kavaya, Kristina Grossman

A group of BVU students concerned with helping fight the war on poverty provided volunteer service in Atlanta during their AWOL inner-city poverty trip

The strong educational foundations students build in the classroom are connected to future careers through hands-on service work focused on the importance of sustainability and our role as citizens of a global community.

More than 40 Buena Vista University (BVU) students, faculty and staff participated in four AWOL (Alternative Week of Off-site Learning) trips during spring break, enabling them to volunteer their time and service to a variety of people and programs.

AWOL has sent more than 641 volunteers and completed an estimated 27,916 hours of service worldwide, furthering its mission to immerse students in different cultures, heighten social awareness and advocate life-long social action through service on a local, regional and international level.

This year’s trips focused on animal advocacy in Kanab, Utah; disaster relief and clean up in New Orleans, Louisiana; inner-city poverty outreach in Atlanta, Georgia; and grassroots sustainability and economic development in Nicaragua.

Here are more details about the trips and a selection of comments from 2015 AWOL participants:

-- Being a Part of the Animal Advocacy Movement through Direct Outreach --
BVU students traveled to Kanab, Utah, and volunteered at Best Friends Animal Society, where they learned about animal advocacy, how to care for many different types of animals and the importance of giving a voice to those who do not have one. Service projects included painting fences, repairing dog runs, cleaning and weeding the horse cemetery and socializing animals. They attended educational sessions on trap/neuter/return programs for feral cats, on research conducted on the long-term effects of puppy mills and a demonstration of the Parelli horse training technique.

Advisors for this experience were Dr. Inez Schaechterle, associate professor of English, and Mandy Boothby, director of counseling services at BVU.

“The AWOL Animal Advocacy trip was a wonderful experience,” said Boothby. “We were able to do many projects that helped the animals and the caregivers to the animals. Best Friends also did a lot of education on different aspects of animal advocacy. We were able to bring this information back to our own communities and make a difference at home.”

Tabitha Ubben, a senior biology major from Bristow and student site leader for the trip, noted, “Not only did we provide service, we also got to learn the importance about what they do at the sanctuary and how we could bring that knowledge back and apply it to our communities.”

“My experience with the animal advocacy AWOL trip was eye opening,” said Molly Konrad, a senior accounting and business-human resources concentration major from Glidden and also a student site leader. “It provided me with a great education that will allow me to implement animal advocacy programs within my community.”

Others students who participated in the Animal Advocacy AWOL trip were Kierra Eldridge, a sophomore athletic major from Lehigh; Krislyn Erickson, a junior psychology major from Maurice; Lindsey Graham, a corporate communication and business-marketing major from Swisher; Ashley Lemke, a junior communication studies major from Sibley; Lindsay Meyer, a freshman environmental science major from Deerfield, Wisconsin; Miranda Wallace, a senior biology major from Carman, Illinois; Kaylee Weber, a sophomore business major from Glidden; and Shania Wunschel, a sophomore psychology major from Arthur.

-- Long Term Aid for a Post-Disaster Community --
Students interested in helping with hurricane disaster relief and promoting community empowerment traveled to New Orleans, Louisiana, where they teamed up with the non-profit Camp Restore to assist in community rebuilding and restoration. This experience exposed participants to the disaster that is still present in New Orleans nine years after Hurricane Katrina.

Advisors for this experience were Ken Meissner, director of spiritual life at BVU, and Jessica Henrichs, BVU AmeriCorps VISTA.

“Absolutely every service site-supervisor raved about our site-leaders, each student, their leadership skills and their tremendous work ethic,” said Meissner. “The service trip to New Orleans was special to me because I had the chance to see how well a team can blend together if each person is invested in building others up and validating one another in all situations.”

Henrichs added, “While in New Orleans our students were able to see the issues that affected New Orleans, but also the long term effects in other areas of the United States, including Iowa.”

Bonnie Keller, a senior biology major from Sioux City and student site leader for the trip said, “We were able to partake in many diverse activities like planting and potting trees (550 collectively), sorting 5,000 pounds of Mardi Gras beads, participating in restoration projects at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, and putting together 500 booklets for kids at a school. The relationships our group made with each other and the people of New Orleans alone made an impact on us. It is truly amazing to see the hope, passion and love the people of New Orleans have and share.”

Charles Webster, a senior criminology and criminal justice major from Panora was also a student site leader for the trip. Other students who participated in the Post-Disaster Community Relief AWOL trip were Meng Di, a junior business marketing and financial decision making major from Shijiazhuang, China; Joshua Fortmann, a senior biology major from Cedar Rapids; Joseph Hindman, a senior biology major from Sioux City; Reine Kwizera, a sophomore biology major from Kigali, Rwanda; Lisa Sabrina Munezero, a sophomore biology major from South Bend, Indiana; Tyler Puls, a senior history-secondary education major from Geneseo, Illinois; Jasmin Ramirez, a junior social work major from Marshalltown; and Taylor Yearous, a sophomore corporate communication major from Sumner.

-- Connecting with Inner-City Poverty --
BVU students concerned with helping fight the war on poverty traveled to Atlanta where they worked on sustainable projects aimed at eradicating poverty in the inner-city. They helped package healthy meals to be delivered to individuals with health issues and special dietary needs and repackaged medical supplies that will be sent to countries around the world. Participants also learned about the history of the poverty in the Atlanta area and the work of prominent figures to promote civil equity.

Advisors for the experience were Miranda Pollock, assistant professor of graphic design, and Lori Berglund, assistant director of career and personal development at BVU.

“Through our service with various organizations in the Atlanta area, some of the students realized there is a broad range of career opportunities they had not previously considered for their particular major,” said Berglund. “The strong educational foundations students build in the classroom are connected to future careers through hands-on service work focused on the importance of sustainability and our role as citizens of a global community.”

Zach Ahrens, a senior exercise science-human performance major from Carroll and student site leader, said, “Our immersion allowed us to gain valuable insight on root causes and the organizations addressing them. Overall, we were inspired to take action in whatever capacity possible in order to make the world a better place.”

Natalie Bellairs, a senior biology major from Osage, was also a site leader on the trip. Other students who participated in the Inner-City Poverty AWOL experience were Jasmine Bautista, a junior digital media major from Dakota City, Nebraska; Kristina Grossman, a junior communication studies major from Glidden; Taylor Kavaya, a senior chemistry and biology major from Urbandale; Tarynne Kinghorn, a junior biology major from Shenandoah; Erin Morley, a sophomore biology major from Sherrard, Illinois; Sloane Morrow, a senior elementary education major from Fort Dodge; Ariana Rodriguez, a senior graphic design and visual communication major from Storm Lake; and Mary Timko, a junior business-human resources concentration major from Storm Lake.

-- Developing Communities Through Education --
Students traveled to Managua, Nicaragua, to cooperate with a nonprofit organization focused on grassroots sustainable and economic development projects for communities in need. Participants had the opportunity to take part in the ongoing rural education program through classroom activities, English and computer classes and playing sports with local children. While in Nicaragua, students helped finish building a library and computer center as they immersed themselves in the life and culture of the region.

Advisors for the experience were Dr. Steven Mills, assistant professor of Spanish, and Mark Shea, director of student success at BVU.

“Students were able to breach the limits of comfort to see how they can help another, regardless of their ability to communicate efficiently with them,” said Mills. “Seeing the impact on their school, and seeing the appreciation they poured out made us realize that our few days of service will be a source of growth for those students in Managua for years to come.”

“We interacted in a typical school setting, toured people’s homes, and received the full cultural experience of Nicaragua, including food, language and daily living,” added Shea. “The students were able to build strong bonds with the children we served and were able to complete a project that will last the school for a long time to come. I learned that when you get a committed group of like-minded individuals together who have a passion to serve, great things can happen.”

Alejandra Mendoza, a junior elementary education major from Alta and student site leader, said, “Everyone in Nicaragua welcomed us with open arms. This trip taught me that true happiness consists of being surrounded by the people you love, and that everything else will fall into place. I have always had a passion for service, and this trip showed me why I love it so much.”

“This was my first AWOL experience, and although it was overwhelming at times, I had great support from every person at every level,” said Jordan Flynn, a senior Spanish and educational studies major from Albuquerque, New Mexico, and also a student site leader. “This experience left a huge impression on me because I have learned about the community needs in Nicaragua, the goals of non-profits and gained new friends.”

Other students who participated in the Nicaragua AWOL service trip were Caitlin Bach, a senior biology major from Bondurant; Elizabeth Kim, a junior biology and Spanish major from Fairmont, Minnesota; Nereyda Manriquez, a senior accounting and Spanish major from Storm Lake; Ryan Mellott, a junior biology major from Westminster, Colorado; Ashley Mendenhall, a senior management and accounting major from Salix; Emily Phipps, a senior biology major from Monroe; Alec Sindelar, a senior business-marketing concentration major from O’Neill, Nebraska; and Andrew Zinn, a senior elementary education major from Spencer.

About Buena Vista University
Founded in 1891, Buena Vista University offers 43 majors and 15 pre-professional programs that blend liberal arts with real-world applications, preparing students for lifelong success. Its quality academic programs, faculty, facilities, and technology result in 94 percent of BVU’s recent graduates being employed or enrolled in graduate/professional schools within six months of graduation, based on a 97 percent survey response rate. Generous merit and need-based financial aid programs, and support for academic travel, research, and internships, make BVU an affordable option for all students and, combined with its academic programs, has led U.S. News & World Report to rank BVU as the third best value school among Midwest Regional Colleges and to an A stable rating from Standard & Poor’s. Visit http://www.bvu.edu.


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Jill Heisterkamp
Buena Vista University
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