March 08, 2012 | Myrna Anderson

Calvin students are serving and learning everywhere from Kermit, West Virginia to Biloxi, Mississippi.

Hannah Meeuwse is already looking forward to the food in Grand Isle. The Calvin senior education major spent a week of March 2011 in the small (1,500 people strong) Louisiana community on the tip of the Gulf of Mexico. She was part of a group of students on a Calvin service-learning spring-break trip, and she was well fed. “It’s Louisiana,” she said. “They made us food every night—huge meals, five courses long.”  Meeuwse also enjoyed the generosity of Grand Isle’s people.

The food and the people are not the only, or the main thing drawing Meeuwse back to Grand Isle, however. Nor were they the things that compelled her two years back to travel to Houma, La., for a spring break trip. “I think my favorite thing about Calvin service-learning spring break trips is the community that is built … among Calvin students,” she said. The bonds that form while serving and learning in communities all over the U.S. are lasting ones, said Meeuwse, who is co-leading the Grand Isle trip: “Some of my best friends are people I met on spring break … . It’s so impacting and long-lasting.”

Many destinations, many services

This year, from March 17 through 24, Calvin will be sending 13 groups of students to Kermit, West Virginia; Knoxville, Tennessee; Biloxi and Mendenhall, Mississippi; Houma and Grand Isle, Louisiana; Mobile, Alabama; Three Rivers, Michigan; the Great Smoky Mountains; Americus, Georgia, St. Louis, Missouri and Boston, Massachusetts.

The students will be serving in a center for at-risk young women, transforming an abandoned school into a community center, working with mentally disabled adults, exploring urban ministry, intentional community and organic farming, doing disaster relief, trail maintenance and construction, promoting a community arts center, remodeling a computer lab and learning about the impact of mountaintop removal.

“We don’t call them mission trips,” said Calvin associate director of the service-learning center Noah Kruis. “We’re not bringing the good news where we’re going. We’re going to bear witness to people who are bringing the good news in the community they live in year round.”

Many kinds of community

Over the years, the service-learning spring-break trips—which have been going on for more than three decades—have returned to many of the same sites over and over again. (Only the Baltimore and Mendenhall trips are new this year.) These “return engagements” build the relationships with Calvin’s partner agencies all over the U.S., said Kruis.

Like Meeuwse, Kruis is a fan of the communities that are built among Calvin students through the trips. “This year, we’re sending more trips (13 is a record), but they’re smaller trips, partly for transportation purposes and partly for group dynamics,” he said. “You can get to know 10 people better and more closely than you can 23.”

Kruis is also inspired by the tradition of student leadership that drives the trips. Although every trip is accompanied by a faculty or staff mentor, the entire enterprise is planned, executed and driven by a student leader or leaders. Many people have repeated as mentors, some to the same location year after year. And many students—and even alumni—are spring break repeaters.

“This year, 13 of 14 leaders are returning to a place they’ve been before,” said Kruis. “It’s building that legacy, that relationship.”

Recent stories