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Not your average winter break

Student organizations travel to needy communities to volunteer their time and services during the month off

Published: Thursday, December 8, 2005

Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 18:01

This holiday season, Boston College students are proving that it truly is better to give than to receive. Numerous domestic and international service trips are planned for the winter break, and students are dedicating themselves to ensuring that these trips will have an impact. Whether near or far, the trips are sure to make for a rewarding winter break.

The Honduras Education and Leadership Project (H.E.L.P.) is a non-profit organization that was founded by a group of BC students in 2003. The devastating effects of Hurricane Mitch, which hit the area in 1998, created a dire need that challenged concerned students to take action. They set up the organization hoping to secure sponsorships and scholarships for children in Comayagua, Honduras. They also started what has become an annual service and immersion trip to the area. This year, from Dec. 29 to Jan. 7, 13 students will be staying in a community center in Comayagua and will be collaborating with local Franciscan friars.

Since its inception, H.E.L.P. has been led entirely by students.

"The independence of this trip is really special. It's nice to see students getting really excited on their own," said Annie Kurdziel, A&S '08, a leader on the trip.

Kurdziel fondly remembered her previous trip to Honduras. "They did more for me than I did for them," she said.

In the past, students have aided the community by moving furniture, making house visits, and engaging with local youth groups. They were also able to install the roof on a house for a mother with 10 kids who was upgrading from a one-room house to a three-room house.

Applications for the annual trip are accepted in the spring. As a warning, Kurdziel said that students should be aware that they "have to be flexible because plans change all the time."

If students are looking for an easy way to get involved with the project on campus, H.E.L.P. can always use students who are willing to collect backpacks to give to the Comayagua community. For more information on the organization, visit

During winter break, four Pedro Arrupe trips will also be taking off to other nations. One trip will be splitting time between Tucson, Ariz. and Sonora, Mexico. The other three will take place in Tijuana, Guatemala, and Belize. For each of these trips, teams are made up of groups of 14 to 16 people, including two student leaders and two staff leaders.

Kelly Garrity, director of the Pedro Arrupe program, emphasized that these trips provoke critical thinking on the part of the participants. "What comes out of it is really profound questions," he said. "The trips combine service, in a traditional sense, and education."

Students will participate in various projects, including reforestation and working with coffee co-ops, and in the past, students have met with government officials, political party representatives, and members of the church."

The trips are all faith-based and Garrity said that a crucial factor of the experience is that it promotes conversation.

"What we do is ask that people be really eager to explore their own faith," he said. "The important piece is when people come home," according to Garrity, because of the dialogue generated by the experience.

Pedro Arrupe trips expose students with an interest in social justice and solidarity to an enlightening experience. A number of the trips are in places that have been influenced by war and the questions provoked by the experience are born out of "continuity and connection between the years," said Garrity.

To get involved in a Pedro Arrupe trip, visit Be sure to take note of the Pedro Arrupe point drives in McElroy Commons and Corcoran Commons through which students can assist the fundraising effort of the teams.

But it is not necessary to leave the country in order to volunteer this winter break.

Through the domestic trips, students have a unique opportunity to provide aid and relief to the victims of Hurricane Katrina. "The Gulf Coast Trip" is sponsored by numerous organizations on campus, including University Issues, Campus Ministry, the Volunteer and Service Learning Center (VSLC), the Office of the Dean for Student Development (ODSD), and the Office of Residential Life. Seventy-eight students will be traveling to Pascagoula, Miss., sleeping on the floor of a high school gym from Jan. 7 to Jan. 15.

The devastation in the area has been experienced firsthand by a recent BC graduate, Liz Stowe, A&S '08, who has been teaching at a school in Mississippi through American Catholic Education.

"Stowe was so welcomed into her community when she first went there she feels like there is nothing she could do to repay them," said Tammy Liddell, a minister in Campus Ministry.

Sanding, painting, and yard cleanup will be some of the ways in which fellow BC students will attempt to help Stowe show her gratitude. Since the hurricane hit, many of the families from the area where Stowe teaches have been living on the top floors of their homes.

"There are a lot of homes in the area that are considered flood-damaged. Because they're not in a flood area, none of them have insurance," said Liddell in reference to the great need.

Each student participant contributed $400 to cover expenses for the trip, including travel and supplies. They will be donating their time to help work on partially destroyed houses.

Five BC students, Margaret Hepp, A&S '06, Emily Jendzejec, A&S '06, Frances Phillips, A&S '07, Jessica Swensen, A&S '06, and Kurdziel, who is going on this trip as well as the one to Honduras, are committed to positively affecting the areas devastated by the hurricane.

"These students are really the people who have been recruiting, who held the first meeting and have been organizing it. It's really a student-run trip," said Liddell.

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