Spring Break of Service

By: Annie Bierman. Published: March 14, 2011

This spring break while many students spent their week long break on the beach or relaxing, one group of students opted for an alternative spring break service global outreach project to Jamaica. During their ten-day stay there, thirteen students and three faculty will be traveling to Kingston and Morant Bay, Jamaica to provide service to communities deep in crippling poverty.

The alternative spring break option started with Dr. Lyn Huxford in 1994 and continues strong through 2011.  When asked about why she continues to go, Huxford said, “Each year when I decide whether or not to go to Jamaica I think about the families whose houses we have built over the years and what a difference we have been able to make in their lives. Also I think about the many McKendree students since we began the trip in 1994 who have given up the traditional spring break scene to instead immerse themselves in Jamaican culture and give their time and effort to helping others. Both thoughts make the experience irresistible.”

The students and faculty build homes for families, provide labor and supplies to keep rural schools open and functional, and support homeless shelters and hospitals.  The homes, however, are not the 2,400 square-foot homes we think of in the United States. A modest Jamaican home is normally a 200-250 square-foot single room.

They partner with the international organization Food for the Poor by collecting supplies and funds to pay for house foundations, and then offer the labor over spring break each year.  They witness ongoing crushing poverty in the ghettos in which they build. The families to whom they are able to provide shelter are often desperate to find resources for their children in an attempt to give them a better life. More specifically this year, they will be working with Food for the Poor on three houses and then on their own, a rural elementary school repairs.

Though traveling to Jamaica for the large service project is a major component to the class, all of the will study poverty cross-culturally and do at least fifteen hours of service here in our own community with such organizations as St. Patrick’s Center, which feeds homeless people in St. Louis; the Christian Activity Center in East St. Louis, which works with at-risk youth after school; and Second Chance Shelter in East St. Louis, which provides emergency shelter for women and children who are victims of abuse. Working from the motto, “Think Globally, Act Locally,” 40 hours of service in Jamaica are mirrored with 15 hours domestically.

To fund the trip, students pay for themselves and then the University matches the students’ funds to pay for the rest of the lodging and airfare. The service projects, however, come with the help of their fundraising initiatives and donations like their pizza fundraiser, silent auction, and letter-writing campaigns.

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