WCU students learning, serving again during spring break

About three dozen Western Carolina University students, faculty and staff members have been looking forward to spring break as an opportunity to learn and serve again this year.

A pair of teams will depart Saturday, March 7, for Nashville, Tennessee, and Cincinnati/Dayton, Ohio, as part of the Center for Service Learning’s annual alternative spring break program, said Jennifer Cooper, center assistant director.

“We’re actually expanding our alternative break program this spring. We’re offering two service trips,” Cooper said. One group went last year to serve in New Orleans, and in 2013, one served in Baltimore, Maryland.

“Our trips generally have a strong focus on poverty,” Cooper said. “So, we’ll be working with groups that focus on basic human needs like Habitat for Humanity, Loaves and Fishes soup kitchen, and Second Harvest Food Bank. We also have projects lined up with Ronald McDonald House, Cheekwood Botanical Garden and Museum of Art, and Radnor Lake State Park.”

The two groups of 11 will serve for a week with a staff member supervising. “We’ve had some great student leadership this year,” she said. “Matt Chevalier has done a lot of the planning for the Cincinnati trip, and Augaly Kiedi and Michelle Powers have been helping to pull everything together for Nashville.”

Kiedi said the students going to Nashville represent many academic disciplines. “We’ll be helping with a variety of activities including mulching trails, preparing meals for the local homeless population, and even participating in a human trafficking seminar. Michelle Powers and myself serve as student leaders and Jessica Barnes (resident director for Residential Living) is the staff leader. The rest of the participants range from freshmen to seniors and are across the board in regards to their majors.”

Cooper agreed. “We’ve got a great mix of experienced volunteers and students who are excited about getting more involved with service,” she said. “We’re really looking forward to the trips!”

Another group is heading south rather than north or west.

Jennifer Hinton, director of the Recreational Therapy Program, and her husband Jay (minister for the WCU chapter of the Wesley Foundation) are serving with their 7-year-old son, a group of 12 WCU students, an alumnus who is a nurse, three other medical professionals and two friends from Cullowhee United Methodist Church on a medical mission trip to Guatemala.

“We are serving in the Baja Verapaz District, and the town we will be in is called Pacux,” Jay Hinton said. “It is a very small rural town that is a ‘model village’ or ‘strategic hamlet’ set up by the Guatemalan army and National Institute of Electricity for the residents transplanted without consultation after the Rio Negro massacre in 1983. They were moved there after the area where they were living became a large reservoir created by the mega-project known as the Chixoy Hydroelectric Dam.”

The team, also leaving March 7, will operate a health clinic in the town, which is poor and the recipient of discrimination because of the peoples’ indigenous heritage, Hinton said. “Our students will get to assist the health care workers coming with us,” he added. “We also will be doing some work alongside townspeople in a local school, spending time with local leaders to work on finding out what their self-identified problems are, what the solutions are, and how we can help in the long term.”

It is a return trip for some members of the team. “Our trips started out as us going to ‘make things better’ because we thought we had what they needed,” Hinton said. “However, what we have realized is that we can assume we know what they need, but we don’t really know until we develop a long-term relationship and learn to walk with them across time in ways that move the helpers and the helped. It removes the ‘doing for’ attitude and creates a ‘doing with’ view.”

For more information about the Nashville or Cincinnati/Dayton trips, contact Cooper at (828) 227-2595 or jacooper@wcu.edu. To learn more about the Guatemala trip, reach Jay Hinton at jay@wcuwesley.com or Jennifer Hinton at jlhinton@wcu.edu.


Video of the medical mission team in Guatemala in 2013: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6kAnLWXT7sI

An article about the Rio Negro survivors from 2008: http://upsidedownworld.org/main/guatemala-archives-33/1272