Waleska — Spring break wasn’t just about cancelled classes and having fun for all Reinhardt students. Many students put their time off March 7-11 to good use by improving their knowledge, performing community service and learning new sports.
Dr. Cheryl Brown, Dr. SimonPeter Gomez, Elizabeth Smith and Dr. Anne Good took nine students on a trip to Mexico to learn about the culture and to deepen their understanding of the world around them.
Dr. Brown co-founded Vidas de Esperanza, a non-profit with a mission to help community development and meet social needs in the area primarly around Ixmiquilpan, Hidalgo, Mexico. She routinely visits the area in Mexico and has been bringing students since 2005.
Prior to their trip, students participated in fundraising and supply drives to meet the needs of the people they would be helping in Ixmiquilpan.
While they were there, they visited six schools and one university, Brown said.
“They distributed 260 bags of school supplies and beanie babies to the kids,” she said. “They also helped mix concrete and carry it up a ladder to put a top on the cistern system in the village of El Tablon.”
The Reinhardt community greatly supported the effort by raising $3,000 for the well system during fall semester.
“RU students have pledged another $1,000 to complete the cistern and bring clean water to 700 families,” Brown said. “This was our third trip at RU and my 20th trip overall to Mexico with students. The focus of the trip is service-learning. Students are taking the Diverse People of Mexico course and this trip is their way of applying what they’ve learned in the classroom.”
To make the most out of the trip and the best learning experience for students, Brown said she surveys students before, during and after the trip to allow her a better understanding of what they want to take away from the trip.
“They talk about seeing the world from another perspective and becoming engaged in a new culture,” Brown said. “In Ixmiquilpan, we stay in the home of an average family and students get to see what life is like on a daily basis. They have a chance to talk to Mexican students about their dreams and hopes
Keeping service in mind
Rev. Jordan Thrasher took nine students and two faculty/staff to Nashville, Tennessee over spring break where they were able to not only learn about important national history but also give back to those in the area who needed it. The trip was open to the entire campus.
“We very often get locked into the understanding that mission means acts of service, so I wanted to introduce them to the concept of justice,” Thrasher said. “The purpose of the trip was to open up an understanding of justice by listening to strangers’ stories. The people with whom we interacted were people we do not necessarily think of, even though they are around us all the time. Hearing the stories of women who suffered from addiction and prostitution, men who endured countless acts of violence and hate to gain their civil rights, boys who have not known the concept of family, and workers who serve us all, but are not always given what they are owed.”
The group of students drove to Nashville Monday morning of spring break and stayed the night in the fellowship hall of Vine Street Christian Church. After a little bit of conversation, relaxing and a good night’s rest, they headed to Thistle Farms, an organization originally started from a campus ministry.
Thistle Farms is a place for at-risk women who have a history of drug abuse or were victims of human trafficking. While the women go through the program, they work taking recycled items and natural products and turn them into stationary that is shipped worldwide. Those who are still in the program, as well as those who have completed it, can work in the Thistle Stop Café – a local restaurant where the students dined the same day.
“While we were eating, a woman named Donna came out and spoke to us,” Class of 2018 student Ansley Avera recounted. “She expressed her gratitude for us choosing to spend our time there and explained how much Thistle Farms has changed her life. It was great getting to meet Donna and other women who have changed their lives through this organization.”
The students also received a live lesson in history, as two Freedom Riders told their story during the Civil Rights tour on Wednesday of spring break.
“The two men, Freddy and Matthew, explained how they were only 19 and 20 when they decided to take part in this movement,” Avera said. “They participated in sit-ins and were two of the actual Freedom Riders one reads about in history books”
Avera said they sat and ate their lunch where the sit-ins took place.
The students spent Wednesday afternoon as free time, enjoying the sights Nashville has to offer from Broadway Street, Riverwalk and Pinewood Social. They ended the night bonding over bowling.
The students were right back to work serving the community Thursday morning as they planted trees and did yard work for Monroe Harding, a foster home for students of many different ages. The foster home started off as an orphanage.
“The workers here help to counsel and raise the students as their own,” Avera said. “Some students have abusive pasts, and the workers strive to help the students in as many ways possible … While we were there, we did not get to interact directly with the students but indirectly. We worked to plant the nurseries of trees on their campus; making sure they can be proud of the place they live was one way we were able to interact with them.”
After their hours of yard work, the students didn’t stop – they headed to Workers Dignity (also known as Dignidad Obrera). The organization is place where workers can turn when they feel they have been cheated of their wages.
“They are able to come to Workers Dignity and make a case,” Avera said. “They look at what the worker was originally told their pay would be and compare that to what they were actually paid. From there, those at Workers Dignity help the worker to write a letter and make a phone call to the company explaining they have noticed a pay difference and expect it to be fixed.”
If the issue is not fixed, the organization helps raise public awareness about what is going on.
“I never knew that these types of direct organizations existed,” Avera said.
Before heading out Friday morning, the group stopped back at Thistle Stop Café for breakfast and spoke more to Donna, who they had met a few days prior.
“Everyone on the trip expressed how much meaning this spring break trip carried for our lives,” Avera said, adding that many of the great things were started by people of her age group. “People have done incredible things at our age, and we can do the same.”
Recreation and learning more about nature
The Reinhardt Outdoors group set sail for their spring break off the coast of Alabama. Dr. Walter May, assistant dean of students and director of student activities, and Steven Vosika, a program coordinator, took 15 students and one alumnus to the Alabama shores where they joined the crew of the Daedalus, a two-masted sailing vessel. They got the chance to cruise the gulf waters off of Orange Beach and Gulf Shores. Students also got to try paddleboarding after putting in the sailboat near Fort Morgan.
“Along the way, we were awed by the stunning natural beauty of this secluded part of Gulf Shores,” said Dr. Walter May, assistant dean of students and director of student activities.
In addition to sailing, the students got the opportunity to hike and explore the 6,816-acre Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge.
“Bon Secour encompasses some of Alabama’s last remaining undisturbed coastal barrier habitat,” May said. “The name Bon Secour comes from the French meaning ‘safe harbor,’ very appropriate considering the sanctuary for native flora and fauna the refuge provides.”
The refuge seeks to conserve an undisturbed beach and dune ecosystem, which serves as a refuge for endangered and threatened plant, fish and wildlife species, as well as a habitat for migratory birds.
When the students and faculty were not sailing and hiking, they enjoyed the beaches and sunshine of Orange Beach, as well as the sights the city has to offer.
Reinhardt junior Tyler Graham said the bonding among fellow students was his favorite part of the trip.
“The sailing was really fun but I think the best part about the sailing trip was playing games with everyone whether we played Battle of the Sexes in the condo or played volleyball out on the beach,” he said. “The most rewarding part of the trip was being with friends and creating new relationships with people.”
RU Sophmore Victoria Cassidy said she fondly remembers the day they played volleyball with 30 mph winds, which was no easy feat.
“Overall, the best part of the sailing trip was playing beach volleyball with 30 mph winds, very challenging, and it was rewarding to get to meet new people from my school with different backgrounds and unique personalities,” Cassidy said.