CSB and SJU sponsor spring break trips that offer service, adventure and education

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April 8, 2019

By Mike Killeen

students in New Mexico

Students from CSB and SJU cleaned out acequias – which carry snow runoff or river water to fields – at the Ghost Ranch in New Mexico.

students in Puerto Rico

Students from SJU and Saint John’s School of Theology and Seminary did work and took part in the daily spiritual life of Monasterio San Antonio, a Benedictine monastery in Humacao, Puerto Rico.

Students at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University have choices for spring break.

One choice is to seek new challenges and adventures through Alternative Break Experiences (ABE), adventure trips, adventure service trips, academic trips and spring season student-athletes getting an early start on their seasons.

Approximately 250 students went on those trips during CSB/SJU spring break March 1-10 and did a little bit of everything – light labor and serving in schools; clearing acequias and trail work; hiking on trails and rappelling down 100-foot cliffs; and serving up aces and hitting home runs.

“When you look at students at CSB and SJU, they’re very global minded,” said Aaron Voth, assistant director of CSB Campus Ministry who is in charge of the seven ABE trips offered by the office. “They’re very open to new experiences, they’re always looking for a challenge and they want to do more with their free time than simply sit around.

“Going to a beach for a week is awesome and that can be great, but I think students are recognizing that ‘Hey, I can do a little more with that,’ ” Voth said.

ABE’s are an ecumenical program offered by CSB Campus Ministry for both Bennies and Johnnies. “We firmly believe that exposure to other cultures, places and ways of life will enhance the lives and perspectives of trip participants,” the office’s mission statement says. “We differ from mission trips in that our purpose is not to spread the Gospel, but rather to learn about the issues each community faces and attend to the needs of the community through service.” 

CSB Campus Ministry celebrated its 35th anniversary of sending students out on ABE trips this year. The first was in 1984, in Washington, D.C.

This year, seven trips went out – three international (Otavalo, Ecuador; Chimbote, Peru; and Las Terresas, Dominican Republic) and four domestic (St. Paul, Minnesota; Red Lake, Minnesota; Kansas City, Missouri; and Nashville, Tennessee). Nashville was a new addition this year.

“Most of (the sites) we’ve had a long-partnership with them,” Voth said. “As far as ABE is concerned, that is something we are looking for, that kind of long-term sustainable development partner.”

The services the students’ provide vary from trip to trip, Voth said.

“Some sites its light labor, like construction, painting, cleaning, things like that. Sometimes it’s a school setting, an after-school program, for young kids or older kids. And sometimes, it’s more community outreach, health advocacy, working with the homeless population, working with sex-trafficking issues,” Voth said. “In general, we’re trying to raise awareness to social justice issues.”

Outdoor adventures

Another office that offers spring break trips is the Peer Resource Program (PRP). PRP has been taking groups on spring break trips since 1986, when the group was formed, said Kyle Rauch, director of the CSB/SJU Adventure Programs and assistant director of environmental programs for Saint John’s Outdoor University.

This year, PRP offered two adventure trips. One went to the Moab, Utah, area, visiting Arches National Park and other public lands. Students on that trip participated in rock climbing, rappelling and canyoneering. A second trip went to the Ozarks in Arkansas, spending their days hiking, exploring waterfalls and canoeing.

“We try to target and go to places and do activities that are unique,” Rauch said. “They are things you’re not necessarily doing on your summer family vacation. It’s the chance to just bond with each other, make new friendships and develop deeper friendships with other students – building that camaraderie that goes along with a hike to push up a mountain or do a big climb.

“That’s what we emphasize, are just the friendships and social connections. On top of that, it’s just a unique experience - it’s stepping out of your comfort zone,” Rauch said.

Saint John’s Outdoor University also sponsors a combination service and adventure trip to the Ghost Ranch in New Mexico led by poet and retired CSB recycling coordinator Larry Schug.

“The Ghost Ranch is a retreat and education center founded back in the 1920s,” Rauch said. “The famous artist Georgia O’Keefe had her residency there, and her old summer home is still on the site. It has a lot of really cool artistic, history pieces to it. There’s also a famous dinosaur quarry on the grounds, so it’s really just this awesome experience of art, science and history that converges there.”

Their service part of the trip consists of cleaning acequias – a community operated watercourse that carries snow runoff or river water to fields.

“Mostly it’s an agricultural community, so they depend a lot on water, and of course, water issues in the West are huge,” Rauch said. “But they got these little drainages, so the students are out clearing them of brush after a long winter and some of the flooding going on. They clear them out and allow farmers and even people with gardens to access the water source.”

A trip for entrepreneurs

Another long-time spring break trip (15 years) is put together for Entrepreneur Scholars at CSB/SJU to visit the Silicon Valley through the Donald McNeely Center for Entrepreneurship. This year, 14 Entrepreneur Scholars visited companies like GSV Labs, run by SJU graduate Mark Flynn ’78, and set up appointments with executives from Apple, Google, Stanford University and Impact Hub.

CSB/SJU students have volunteered on medical volunteer trips for the last seven years through VIDA Volunteer. During that time, the group has visited Guatemala, Nicaragua and Costa Rica, with the students assisting local doctors and dentists (and translators) to help provide basic medical and dental care to underserved communities.

This year, 17 students volunteered in Costa Rica taking vital signs and attaining medical histories so the medical professionals have baseline information on each patient. They also stay in homes of area residents.

“To me, the work (the students) are doing is just the vehicle for the greater learning and experience taking place,” said Abby Meinke, assistant director of admission at CSB/SJU who is the staff adviser for the trip. “Our students are getting impeccable experience working alongside professionals but also experiencing other cultures and heritages by doing so.” 

New trip to Puerto Rico

The new trip on the block this year was offered by Saint John’s Campus Ministry. Seven Johnnies – led by two graduate students from Saint John’s School of Theology and Seminary – did work and took part in the daily spiritual life of the Monasterio San Antonio, a Benedictine monastery in Humacao, Puerto Rico.

“When I looked across the board at what we were offering, I saw a need for a transformative encounter for Johnnies in particular,” said Margaret Nuzzolese Conway, director of Saint John’s Campus Ministry. “We wanted them to engage the Benedictine values, to learn and practice the pillars of Catholic social teaching - the service, the common good and the human dignity work - and to have a profound theological reflection.

“Puerto Rico came in because of the great connection with the Benedictine Volunteer Corps. Br. Paul Richards was an essential partner in setting up a relationship between us the BVC,” Nuzzolese Conway said.

She added that the students aided the community still recovering from Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017 by repairing windows, painting and clearing trails in the rain forest.  

Meanwhile, student-athletes from CSB and SJU got into the swing of things – literally – on spring trips to prepare for upcoming Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference seasons.

CSB sent approximately 70 students on spring break trips for the softball, tennis, golf and track teams (the track team’s trip to Texas was optional for team members). Meanwhile, approximately 55 student-athletes from SJU went on trips with the baseball, golf and tennis teams.