College students across the country recently took part in the annual tradition of spring break, trading in their textbooks and homework for board shorts and bikinis and following the birds south for warmer weather.
But not all college students were out for fun in the sun this spring.
Two Northwestern College students from Sarpy County took part in Northwestern College’s spring service projects in Orange City, Iowa, in early March, sacrificing their rest and recreation to serve others in need. And while these projects could have been done outside of the country, both students chose to serve within the United States.
Papillion’s Kristin Schmiedt spent her break in Cary, Miss., working at the Cary Christian Center.
“There’s definitely a lot of poverty down there,” said Schmiedt, 20. “Their lives and struggles are a lot different than our own.”
The Papillion-La Vista South High School graduate said she took part in a variety of volunteer ministries, including painting houses, assisting an after school program and helping a thrift shop owned by the Cary Christian Center.
She said there is a value in students partaking in the spring service project as it builds a collective experience.
“There were 20 of us that went to Cary, and we each had a different story,” she said.
These stories, she said, help build relationships, not only between the students serving and those they serve, but also among the volunteer contingent itself. For a 20-year-old, it can be a different sort of fun.
“Last year, I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, why would someone waste their spring break?’” Schmiedt said.
It was in her freshman year when Schmiedt first heard the stories of her friends and classmates returning from their service trips. She changed her mind about spending a spring break in service. Now, she said she is already looking forward to future opportunities.
“I can’t wait to go back next year,” she said, adding it was one of the best experiences of her time in college.
Schmiedt said in the future, she hopes to go somewhere within the country. She remembers a trip she took during high school, when students of Papillion-La Vista South exchanged with students of Omaha South High School, and she said the opportunities for outreach and education were myriad, right in her own backyard.
“That was when I first realized there’s an extreme culture difference in one town,” she said.
She said she recognizes the importance of experiencing other cultures, especially as she wants to be a teacher some day, in a district and school that serves a diverse population.
Schmiedt was not the only one from Sarpy County to participate in these spring break service trips.
Bellevue’s James Teutschmann served in New Orleans’ Urban Impact.
“What typically happens when you go down is you spend some time in the schools,” Teutschmann, 18, said. “But we went down this year and Mardis Gras was going on.”
With no school in session, the Bellevue West High School graduate said his group spent the majority of its time repainting an apartment building owned by Urban Impact. The hope, he said, is to sell the complex some day to raise funds and create a new youth center to provide a safe haven for children in need.
In his time, he learned a lot about the culture of New Orleans, including Mardis Gras. For example, the colorful masks used in the parades are for much more than show.
“The whole point to wear masks is it doesn’t matter what’s your race or socioeconomic standing, everyone can come together and celebrate,” he said.
Teutschmann said he chose to participate in the projects right away in his freshman year because there is a value in doing something for someone else, especially within the United States.
“A lot of the time, we neglect people who need help here,” he said. “I wanted to be able to help people in my own country who have real problems.”
As for helping, he said the service trip felt like a reward in its itself.
“It still felt like a vacation,” he said.
For instance, Teutschmann said one night he and some friends began playing basketball with some of the youth from the inner-city and had an opportunity to connect and serve them.
“These are the kids this is all for,” he said. “It was really cool to see the purpose behind what we were doing.”
Both Schmiedt and Teutschmann said they also felt like they walked away with something from the trip: an overwhelming sensation of gratitude.
“It makes you think and appreciate what you have,” Schmiedt said.
Teutschmann said his perspective change was the “coolest part” of his whole trip.
“You go down there and you think you’re going to help someone,” he said. “A lot of the times, it’s them helping you.”