March 17, 2011 | Matt Kucinski

More than 120 Calvin students will be serving in ten different states during spring break.

Calvin junior Kyle Schaap spent last spring break with about a dozen people he didn’t really know. He’s since helped encourage a record number of students to do the same.

“Ten to 12 hours in a car will do it for you. We were best friends by the time we got there,” he said.

Schaap spent a week in Kermit, W.V., last year with a Calvin service-learning center spring break trip. The group lived for a week on a mountain ridge doing everything from chopping wood to learning about the impact mountaintop removal has on Appalachian communities.

“That trip has colored everything I’ve done at Calvin since,” said Schaap.

Prep work

This Spring Break, Schaap will not be heading back to West Virginia, but he’s using last year’s experience to influence this year’s trips. He’s been working with associate director of the service-learning center Noah Kruis to recruit a record number of students and solidify a record number of sites.

On Saturday, March 19, more than 120 Calvin students will travel to ten different states. The students will travel everywhere from Boston, Mass., to Grand Isle, La., doing everything from oil cleanup to learning about urban poverty.

“We have a variety of trips to reach a great segment of the student population,” said Kruis.

Four more partnerships

This year, Calvin is partnering with four new organizations. Students will work with City Lights ministry in St. Louis, Mo., focusing specifically on issues surrounding urban education. The students will get a comprehensive view of the city, visiting the tourist spots as well as the poverty-stricken areas.

Another group will work with Trails Forever, in Great Smoky Mountain National Park. The trip will have a wilderness focus: students will do trail maintenance, live in the park and cook their meals over a fire.

In Mobile, Ala., students will work with L’Arche USA, which is an off-shoot of L’Arche, an organization founded in France, which provides an intentional Christian community integrating people with and without cognitive disabilities.

And yet another group of students will head to Koinonia Farm in Americus, Ga., an intentionally interracial religious community started in 1940 by Clarence Jordan (1912-1969). On their way back from Koinonia Farm, students will meet with Wendell Berry, a well-known advocate of grassroots farming, who will talk to the students about Christian intentional agriculture.

“Food is such a current topic … the food, farm relationship to our society” said Kruis. “They’re not just looking at agriculture, but also at social justice and racial reconciliation.”

Bringing service back home

The groups will return to Grand Rapids on Saturday, March 26. Upon their return, they will each do a service project in Grand Rapids related to their trip’s focus. This is a new initiative and Kruis says it will help students realize there’s a lot to do right here in west Michigan.

“We often think of going elsewhere to serve, bringing our abundant resources to an under-resourced community,” said Kruis, “but the truth is that there is much that we can learn and do in service to our own community.”

And both Kruis and Schaap agree that the purpose of these trips reaches far beyond the manual labor that’s done by the students.

“Most trips are focused on dwelling within a community. There’s less focus placed on accomplishing a task; rather listening to people’s stories, experiencing life as it’s lived in another place,” said Kruis.

“The students are going for a week, but the organizations that they are visiting have been there for years,” said Schaap. “They’re going to witness the things these people are doing and have been doing for a long time. We help in some of the ways we can, but we also go to experience these people’s stories and to carry them back here.”

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