Students spend Alternative Spring Break serving others
April 13, 2012

Spring break in Miami can conjure up visions of days on the beach and nights on the town, but six students from LaGrange saw a different side of the city during their Alternative Spring Break trip April 1–6.

Accompanied by Blair Tolbert, Director of Student Ministries, and Kendal Wallace, Head Men’s Basketball Coach, the group spent the week volunteering with the Discovering Opportunities for Outreach and Reflection Network, a faith-based initiative offering urban service-learning programs.

“This year’s ASB allowed students a service learning opportunity in an urban setting,” said Tolbert. “Throughout the week, the students continually gave of their time, energy and love with willing spirits and generous hearts. We were able to work with children, older adults, men, women and even spent some time on a farm with goats, chickens and crops of all kinds. DOOR Miami enabled us to interact and work alongside the many diverse communities of Miami, including Little Haiti and Little Havana.”

The LaGrange volunteers worked with housing and homeless ministries to prepare and serve food; with children, helping with reading, writing and Easter projects; and with memory care clients doing memory activities, exercises, music and crafts.

“We also met and learned from community organizers and faith leaders about the issues of poverty, joblessness and homelessness in Miami,” Tolbert said. “On the last night in Miami, we had a closing service of worship and reflection with our group and DOOR leaders where we washed each other’s feet and prayed for each other as another experience of servant leadership.”

Coach Wallace said he wanted to be involved in the trip for several reasons.

“I looked at it as professional growth, as well as spiritual growth … . This trip gave me the opportunity to meet and bond with students outside of basketball,” he said. “Being a leader comes in many forms, and for these students to observe me working side by side with them, I hope it will inspire movement and service in their future.”

He had high praise for Tolbert.

“She is wonderful at what she does.  She supported our team all year, and I wanted to be there for her, as well,” he said. “Plus, we may have picked up a few basketball fans.”

Students on the trip were juniors Stephanie Rojas and Anna McCurry, sophomore Blake Shuler and first-years Nicole Cato, Megan McDonald and Rebekah Meadows.

For one of them, the experience was a dream come true.

Stephanie said she had always dreamed of visiting the south Florida city.

“I’ve wanted to go since I was a little kid,” she said. “When I saw the opportunity to go to Miami, my heart smiled. Having the opportunity to help others and enjoy my spring break in my dream place was amazing.”

She said she loved every location they worked, but was especially touched by the time they spent with Easter Seal Disability Services.

“We worked with Alzheimer patients. I’ve never had that experience before, but I learned that no matter how hard life gets, never forget to smile and get the best of each day.”

This was Anna’s second Alternative Spring Trip. She traveled to El Salvador last year, and said there were some similarities.

“During both trips, I met friends in Christ who I will always keep. But I realized that there are people who greatly need help of all kinds here in our own country, not just in Third World countries. I knew that before I went – but seeing it on my own really touched and changed my heart.”

A visit to the Missionaries of Charity made an impression on both Anna and Stephanie.

“Right before we served lunch at the soup kitchen there, I looked around the room at 300 homeless people and saw so many different kinds of people,” Anna said. “The nun led us in prayer and I saw all these people pray over the food they were about to eat. Even though everyone was so different and came from different backgrounds, we were all brought together in that one place to serve and be served. It was very powerful.”

Stephanie had a poignant moment herself.

“I was at the dessert section and one man came up to me and said, ‘Dios te bendiga,’ ” she said. “That translates to ‘God bless you.’ Those words will stay in my heart for a long time. Choosing to spend my spring break to serve others has been the best life-changing experience of my life.”

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