March 10, 2006 | Myrna Anderson

75 Calvin students will be trekking to seven locales on the college’s spring break service-learning trips.

From March 17 through 25, while students nationwide join the annual spring break exodus to the beach, 75 Calvin students with less leisurely agendas will be trekking to seven locales on the college’s spring break service-learning trips. Two of the student groups will be lending a hand at Katrina relief.

“We’re coming into the community to work alongside of agencies that are already involved in the community, helping them to achieve their goals,” says Lori Gesink, associate director of service-learning at Calvin. “It’s really about partnerships.”

Calvin students will clean up the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in two states.

One group of 17 students will work in collaboration with the John M. Perkins Foundation for Reconciliation and Development in Gulfport, Mississippi. Another group of 18 students will work in Houma, Louisiana, situated a mere 50 miles from New Orleans.

The latter group will be led by Dan Vandersteen of Calvin’s Broene Counseling Center, who already did a stint in Houma in September 2005, working with the Red Cross to provide mental and emotional counseling to evacuees.

“I’m really excited about going back,” says Vandersteen. “It was a lot of chaos when I was there in September. We will be doing everything from re-roofing houses to emptying houses that have been underwater.”

The Houma trip will partner with a group of with retired seniors from Southern Baptist Church in Arkansas.

“We will be eating together, sleeping together and working together,” says Vandersteen. “We’re happy to be working with them.”

The other student trips will be traveling to locations in the southwestern, Midwestern and eastern United States.

Ten Calvin students will be working with the Red Mesa Foundation in Rehoboth and Gallup, New Mexico doing trail conservation to help with erosion issues.

Another ten students will be building houses with Habitat for Humanity in Kansas City, Missouri. Fourteen students, all women, will do maintenance and other chores at the Florence Crittenton Agency, an organization for women in crisis in Knoxville, Tennessee. An octet of students will paint homes in Port Gibson, Mississippi with Volunteer Services, an organization that helps the elderly in Appalachia. And ten students will be working in the various outreaches of the Boston Project, an urban ministry in Boston, Massachusetts.

All of the students raised their own money to participate in the trips. And each of the student groups will make a donation to the organization with which they partner on the service projects. (LaGrave Avenue Christian Reformed Church donated $1,500 to Calvin’s service-learning center to allow students to go on the Katrina relief trips).

The spring break trips expand the horizons of the students who take them Gesink says.

“I think it opens their eyes and gives them a different awareness than what they’ve grown up with," she says. "It helps them to ask questions and maybe wrestle with questions they’ve never wrestled with before. I think it also connects them to another group of people on campus, and that helps them belong to the Calvin community even better. Hopefully it creates even more of a heart of service, which should be the outflow of our relationship to Christ.”

The trips are as much about learning as service, she emphasizes.

"For each trip, we try to give them some readings about the cultures they’re going to partner with. The New Mexico group will have articles about Navajo code talkers and the Yellow Dust that contaminated the Navajo miners in the area," she says. "The group going to Gulfport through the Perkins Foundation will be reading about racial reconciliation and racial issues.”

The service-learning trips have a long legacy at Calvin, she adds.

"Most of these trips, we’ve been sending for 20 to 25 years, working alongside of the same agencies," she says. "And some students are repeaters. One senior, Melanie VanderWal, has gone on three spring break trips in her time at Calvin. I think it’s just phenomenal that she chooses to do this.”

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