North Central College students initiate standout service trips

Apr 05, 2013

Some 70 North Central College students bypassed trips to the beach and instead spent their spring break on humanitarian service projects. Two of those projects especially stand out for the initiative of the student participants.

One team of students was eager to help with relief efforts from last October’s Hurricane Sandy on the East Coast and partnered with organizations to transport furniture to stricken homeowners and repair a home. Another trip was coordinated and financed entirely by student-athletes who traveled to Florida to work with Habitat for Humanity in a needy community.

Staten Island, N.Y., was the destination for 10 students and one staff member helping with hurricane relief. Led by Curt Bowers ’13 and Brian Rainville, director of ministry and service, the team secured food and lodging at the Staten Island campus of Wagner College, a fellow NAC&U school, at the suggestion of Francine Navakas, North Central’s Svend and Elizabeth Bramsen Professor in the Humanities and associate academic dean. After Hurricane Sandy hit, Wagner students assembled contact information of local agencies helping with relief efforts to offer to others, like North Central College, that wanted to serve.

Bowers and Rainville arranged to work with two nonprofit agencies, Back to Basics and Tunnels to Towers—both had histories of responding to practical needs in the community. Students spent a day helping load and unload trucks of used furniture to peoples’ ruined homes and four days repairing a home that had been flooded. They hung, mudded and taped drywall in the home’s basement and first floor.

“Although there are still unbelievable amounts of work to be done there, we definitely made a difference in a few lives,” Bowers said. “I was happily reminded of the inherent good in people, both those in our group and those we worked with and met. Our students never complained about the long workdays, but kept in mind why we were doing this. It was refreshing to work with people who really wanted to help others.”

Rainville agrees: “This group really came together. We all had a shared goal and didn’t let anything get in the way of connecting, serving, living and working together. It’s the best service trip I’ve been on.”

A team of 16 student-athletes with two staff members planned and financed their own service trip to Bunnell, Fla., to work for Habitat for Humanity. Started several years ago, the “all-athletics” service trip has been planned and coordinated by Mackenzie Wenger ’14 for the last two years. “She’s really put her whole heart into this,” said Joan LaCombe, secretary, Office of Athletics and health and physical education, who helped Wenger with pre-trip plannning.

Wenger invited input from student-athletes on activities and location choices, but she made the connections and arrangements with a Habitat site in Florida. “We wanted to go where it was warm, green and our efforts could make a difference,” Wenger said.

She didn’t have any trouble recruiting student-athletes, who play soccer, tennis, volleyball, cross country, and track and field. They completely funded the trip with a letter campaign to friends and family to cover the Habitat fees and travel expenses, like gas, hotels and food.

“It’s a good, satisfying feeling. We raised a house from the slab to the roof, and we built relationships we’ll have a long time,” said Wenger. “These service trips have the power to change you. My thinking and actions have changed over the years, always for the better, because of these trips. And I hope the all-athletics trip will keep going every year.”