DUBOIS – Two groups of students from Penn State DuBois embarked on two separate service trips over this year’s spring break. Rather than spending their time on a beach, or partying, the two groups, made up of more than 30 campus students, used the time to help others in need. The campus Student Life Office organized one trip, which took student volunteers to Tuba City, AZ, where they volunteered on the Navajo Reservation. The Christian Student Fellowship (CSF) led the other service group, which traveled to Joplin, MO to assist in cleaning up and rebuilding the city in the wake of the devastating tornado that hit there in May of last year.
At the Navajo Nation, the Penn State students served Navajo children in their local school, the Tuba City Boarding 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. They also offered the Navajo children new cultural experiences, just through interacting with them and getting to know them. As Penn State DuBois Student Life Coordinator Marly Doty noted, life for the Navajo is very different from what the Penn State students know, so the learning experiences were two-sided. Doty, as well as adjunct instructor Bill Allenbaugh and wife, Nancy, accompanied students on the trip.
“It was wonderful to watch our students and the Navajo children work together in a cultural infusion where both left a better person, with broadened perspectives,” Doty said. “The Navajo students really need someone to believe in them and to give them that extra boost in their academics. It’s hard to focus on school when some are responsible for their younger siblings or getting by without running water or electricity.”
“This trip was one of the single-most amazing adventures of my life,” said student Owen Samuels. “The service done for the Tuba City Boarding School gave me an entirely new perspective of childhood education, as well as an intimate portrait of the Navajo children.”
In Joplin, the experiences were no less life changing for those involved. There, students helped families who are still struggling to get their lives back in order nearly a year after a tornado leveled most for their town. Homes, businesses, and forests were all leveled throughout Joplin on May 22, 2011.
“People told us stories that were almost like war stories,” said campus minister Kyle Gordon, who, along with International and Multicultural Student Services Coordinator Tharren Thompson, led the CSF on their mission to Missouri. Gordon continued, “We worked with one family who was stopped at a red light in their car when the tornado hit, and it carried them a half mile down the road.”
Gordon, Thompson, and the students helped the Joplin residents by working to refurbish damaged buildings. They installed drywall, replaced porches, and did other general construction projects. They also helped to build new homes by framing walls for the new structures.
Students also helped bring the town back to life by planting trees. Once plentiful in the area, the tornado left almost no trees standing it its path. Gordon said, “A lot of the area still looks like an open field. It used to all be forested; now you can step out of someone’s door and see houses that you never could have seen before.”
Gordon and Thompson said they are both proud of the work the students did in Joplin, and happy that they had the experiences that they did.
“The people were thankful that the students gave up their spring break to help them; that they gave up spring break to get callused hands and tired backs. But, trips like this are just as much of a ministry to those who go on them as they are to those who need help. It shows hope beyond community service for everyone.”
“The value of a trip like this for students is that they get to experience, fist hand, the tragedy you see on the news,” said Thompson. “It’s one thing to see it on TV, but having been there, the impact is greater, and it shows how great their impact can be, and inspires them to keep serving others.”
Steve Harmic, Penn State DuBois