St. Edward's Students Reflect on Alternative Spring Break
Instead of diving into South Padre Island or Cancun, Mexico, 70 St. Edward’s University undergraduate students dove into complex social and cultural issues by participating in Alternative Spring Break, a service experience sponsored by Campus Ministry. Students traveled to Arizona, Chicago, Denver, Kentucky, Mississippi and Texas to have the opportunity to make an impact and engage in new experiences.
In the tradition of the Holy Cross educational model of “information, formation, transformation,” the hope is that students are transformed by their experiences of community, simplicity, spirituality and justice, becoming agents of change in the world. Read their stories and reflections from their trips:
Andre House: Phoenix, Arizona
One thing I learned from this trip is that happiness is something that can’t be bought. For many of our guests at the shelter, a smile and a listening ear was all they needed to brighten their day. The guests may have been under the impression that we were there to be of service to them, but in reality, they provided an invaluable service to each and every one of us that we will never forget.
Daniel De Los Santos
I’ve been asked what I did while at Andre House over Spring Break, and my short answer is that we worked at a shelter serving food, providing clothing, laundry and showers. But that doesn’t capture all we did. Andre House is not a shelter — it’s a house of hospitality. Their doors are open to offer services to everyone. Each guest has the opportunity to use the phone, grab some shampoo, lotion, a blanket, take a shower, wash their clothes and eat as much food as they like. While we spent our days doing various work, we really lived on a level of solidarity with the community there — the staff and guests of Andre House. Throughout the day, we met people and learned their stories, which was more important at times than the service we provided. By the end of the week, our community had grown to include so many more than the nine of us. So, when asked what I did over Spring Break, I can answer with a deeper truth — I learned the resiliency of the human spirit, the importance and endurance of community, and that I gained an entirely new perspective of the world.
Border Experience: El Paso
Building community: Through our work in El Paso, we not only bonded with one another, but with the women at Villa Maria, a homeless shelter, where we worked. We all loved to sing and dance. You might be familiar with the quote “Where words fail, music speaks.” Those words have never been more prevalent in my life than during this ASB trip. Music was the one thread that bonded not only our group, but us with the women at the homeless shelter. Irene, a beautiful woman at the shelter, loved to sing and dance with us. She would put on Aretha Franklin, The Jackson 5 or The Temptations while we waxed the floors. One night we serenaded Irene with a song from The Jackson 5 and she began to cry. That’s when I realized what kind of impact we had on the women, and more importantly, what an impact they left on us.
Doing Justice: I think it’s safe to say that none of us ever want to wax a floor again. We learned, however, that it’s often the little things, like waxing a floor, that show your gratitude and appreciation for others. The trip became more about fixing up the homeless facility because we developed a deep love for the women, and less because we knew we were there to “do service.”
Living Simply: Although we probably had it much better than many of the other groups, we were challenged to live simply. We were all inspired by hearing stories of immigrants as well as being with the women in the shelter, to live as simply as possible. We realized it’s really not all that hard to live within our means and still be well fed and smell okay.
Engaging spiritually: The moment for me when I really knew I was engaging spiritually was during reflection on the last night. We went to the top of the Franklin Mountains and looked out over the city. We knew that El Paso was out in front of us, and that Mexico was somewhere beyond that, but you couldn’t distinguish between the two. The lights and life of the neighboring countries blended together. That was “God’s view” of the border. This is the moment when it all came clear. God sees no borders, and, more importantly, love sees no borders.
Glenmary Farm: Appalachia
At Glenmary, the idea of simplicity was huge. It was the pillar that had the greatest effect on me. I realized that not showering, shaving, and leaving behind the technology would not kill me. Life goes on without the use of your cell phone, constantly checking e-mail, or using Facebook. It was an incredible feeling. I loved getting to know people without having my attention diverted to the phone buzzing in my pocket, or leaving a conversation to check my e-mail to see if my professor had e-mailed back. It was also surprisingly enjoyable to not wear makeup (not that I wear a lot to begin with) and learn about people just as they are, with no “barriers” between us. All of these things helped me interact with the people in my own group more sincerely, helped me meet the students from other schools in a very personal way, and most importantly, made me feel more down to Earth when I was with the people we helped every day.
The people that I met in Lewis County, Ky., live so simply and so close to God that it makes me want to bring aspects of what I saw there into my own life here at home. I now make a very conscious effort to keep up with a prayer journal, connect to people more genuinely (without texting during conversations), and plan to do more service as often as I can. Through spirituality and simplicity, I was able to gain a better understanding of God and people in general.
Habitat for Humanity of the Mississippi Gulf Coast: Biloxi, Mississippi
Our group participated in Habitat for Humanity’s efforts in restoring the Mississippi Gulf Coast. We started the journey as 10 individuals looking to make a difference, and ended up as a group who put their minds, bodies, hearts and souls into an unforgettable experience. With many hands, we helped a family expand their house. Through learning how to weave a roof, demolishing walls, installing insulation and windows and hammering for countless hours, our group contributed a small but significant role in the big picture.
We hope to never forget the people we met and the friends we made, or the lessons we learned from others as well as the lessons we taught ourselves. Any obstacle can be overcome. Limitations do not exist when your heart and soul are in tune. But, most of all, we will not forget the four pillars that helped our remarkable experience—doing justice, living simply, engaging in spirituality and building community.
La Puente: Denver, Colorado
Our Spring Break journey took us to Denver, Colorado, to be educated about homelessness, poverty and environmental racism. We really put our knowledge into practice later in the week in Alamosa, Colorado, where we worked at a homeless shelter for two straight days. Along the way, we met some truly incredible people. Rodolfo, an illegal immigrant, told us his painful journey about crossing the border; Jamie, a civil servant, explained Denver’s ambitious plan to eliminate homelessness within the next 10 years; Phil, our residential tenant, shed tears of true sorrow upon seeing us depart for home. We interacted with so many people who impacted our experience.
Through this journey, we learned what it meant to live in God’s path. The four pillars are perhaps the best way to depict our Spring Break experience. We didn’t take showers everyday. We didn’t eat out. And, no we didn’t use any sort of technology even when we desperately needed a GPS to get us out of the mess Google Maps had put us in. But, by the end of the week, we weren’t even thinking about our small luxuries. Instead, we contemplated on the tremendous need of the people around us, the help that we were to them, and the continuing aid that we must give. We were inspired to give back, and most especially to teach others how they may also give back to God’s beautiful creation we call Earth. And the fact that we did this while becoming close friends still astonishes me to this day.
Mary House Catholic Worker: Austin, Texas
We were supposed to go to New York City for Spring Break and work at the Manhattan Comprehensive Day and Night School, however we helped out our local community instead. We were awakened to the issues of poverty in the very city where we live — Austin, and our group was completely immersed in this lifestyle. We were all a little culture-shocked in our very own city, but now understand what is occurring right down the street, rather than across the country.
Urban Immersion: Chicago, Illinois
We worked in a soup kitchen, clothing re-sale store, a nuns’ house, at inner-city after-school programs, and St. Malachy’s school for pre-k through eighth graders.
St. Malachy’s was the most memorable part of my week because of the heart-breaking stories I heard from the students and teachers. St. Malachy’s is in one of the most dangerous, gang-controlled neighborhoods in Chicago where kids have broken families, fear walking home from school, where their childhood role model was shot and killed on the basketball court, and too many other crimes to count. From these stories, I realized that there was no possible way we could “do justice” in this place in just a week. But, we could face these children’s unjust realities and brighten their day in any way we could.
Most of the experiences I’ve shared have been what we learned, not what we did. Our group decided before we left that Chicago was going to give us far more than we could ever give in return. We weren’t there to fix people. We were there to learn from them and lend a hand in whatever way they needed. With this common goal in mind, the 10 of us accomplished so much more than we hoped and gained incredible friends in the process.
View some moments from the Alternative Spring Break trips on Flickr.