Students Grow in Faith Serving on Alternative Break

by Amber Ferrari | Mar 31, 2015

Students traveled to Appalachia, New Mexico, and Nicaragua during spring break as part of Marian University’s Alternative Break program.

What is special about the Alternative Break trips is that all operations, planning, as well as leadership, are conducted by the students. A team of two student leaders per trip are chosen by campus ministers at the beginning of an academic year. These leaders spend a substantial amount of time reflecting on the Christian roots of the program, preparing for challenges, and developing skills to help others have a transformational opportunity. Additional students are then selected to be Alternative Break team members for the individual trips through an application process. Marian University staff and faculty are also given the opportunity to experience Alternative Break serving as trip advisors.

Nicaragua was this year’s international Alternative Break destination for Marian University. Student leaders Emily Tomlinson and Elizabeth Koester, as well as trip advisors, Kyle Kellam, Ph.D, and Anna Zimmerman, worked with their team on a clean water project in a small rural community in Nicaragua called Nance Dulce.

Nicaragua is the only country in the world where kidney disease is the number one cause of death. It is 100 percent preventable through purification of drinking water. That is why this project was so important. The team from Marian University worked in fellowship with several other visiting groups through a local service program called Amigos for Christ.

The week of the trip, temperatures were in the upper 90s presenting more challenges than the tasks aside from the tasks at hand.

“It is very hot and dry in Nicaragua this time of year, so staying hydrated was not only important, it was also very challenging. We required about two gallons of water per day just to stay hydrated,” said Kellam.

While on the trip, the team was able to explore the city of Chinandega with a guide and also climbed an active volcano called Cerro Negro.

Zimmerman said, “The day we climbed was so windy that at times it felt like I was going to fly off the side of the volcano. It was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done, but it was also one of the best.”

Alternative Break has a history of leaving cultural, spiritual, and reflective impacts on those who attend. Sophomore, Tayler Wilson, said, “I loved working alongside the Nance Dulce community and seeing how grateful and happy they were to have us there working toward a common goal. It was challenging to keep going after long days and speaking little Spanish, but the community was so loving and I believe God sent me there for a reason.”

Adam Setmeyer, director of Campus Ministry, said, “Many students have credited their Alternative Break experience with impacting their career perspective and informing their vocational call to transformational leadership.”

 Senior, Kelly Leyba, had a very reflective experience while in Nicaragua and plans to return. “I know God is calling me back to Nicaragua to serve that community. I bought a ticket to return in June. Mission work may very well be a part of my future ministry.

Many of the students who participate in Alternative Break trips, much like Leyba, continue to seek out further service opportunities in the future.  Alternative Break helps Marian University students reflect upon the reasons for service and the need for social action as they dedicate a week towards embodying much of the Franciscan values through service. 

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