Spring Break Service Trip Takes Students to Navajo Reservation

Front Row: L-R Marly Doty, Student Life Coordinator; Lauren Neff. Back Row: L-R: Tony Harris, Student Life Office staff member; Hillary Yarger, Cesar Salazar, Theresa Skillman, Kim Hummel, Jessi Hummel, Janet Cahilly. (Photo provided by Steve Harmic)

TUBA CITY, AZ – Over spring break, a group of seven Penn State DuBois students provided valuable services to members of the Navajo Nation, while also having the cultural experience of a lifetime. Students Kim Hummel, Jess Hummel, Theresa Skillman, Lauren Neff, Hillary Yarger, Janet Cahilly, and Cesar Salazar joined Student Life Coordinator Marly Doty and Student Life staff member Tony Harris on the trip.

The students used their spring break to take a service trip to Tuba City, AZ, where they volunteered on the Navajo reservation through the service organization, Amizade. 

The Penn State students served Navajo children in their local school by tutoring them in their basic subjects.  It’s something the administrators at the school say is essential, because lifestyles on the reservation offer little time for study outside of school. 

“While Tuba City has electricity and running water, 15 miles out of the city many places do not have either of these modern utilities that we take for granted,” Doty said.  “It is easy to understand why these students struggle in school because for many of them school is the last thing on their mind.” 

Another service the Penn State DuBois students offered to the Navajo students was a new cultural experience.  They introduced the children to many things that they have never seen before; things that people in mainstream culture view as the norm. 

“Many of these children have never met anyone different from themselves and many will never be afforded the opportunity to leave the reservation,” Doty explained.  “The Navajo reservation is the largest in the United States and occupies parts of four southwestern states. A great deal of these children have never even seen grass or trees.”

In return, the Penn State DuBois students learned about Navajo culture as well.  They learned about the rich Navajo heritage through food, dance, music, making pottery and jewelry, and by experiencing a traditional sweat lodge.  Students said the trip was eye opening, even life changing. 

“The Navajo people not only opened my eyes up to their world, but also to the whole world around me,” said Hillary Yarger. 

Students who went on the trip said they’ll be able to pass along to others what they learned about a dying culture, hopefully extending the life of the Navajo legacy.  They’ll start by sharing their experiences with fellow students on campus. In April, they’ll host an informational lunch for the campus community where they’ll speak about their trip to the Navajo reservation.

Steve Harmic, Penn State DuBois

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