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Rethinking Spring Break: Groups of Mercy College students engage in service learning in Indian Island and Guatemala

Spring break is typically known as a time for students to flee from the classroom and look forward to the beach. Thats not the case for some Mercy College students; instead they are looking forward to the opportunity to serve the greater good.

Two groups of students from Mercy College of Northwest Ohio will travel this month to areas in which they will engage in service to the poor and underserved, in keeping with Mercys Mission.

A group of nine students and two staff members will participate in the Colleges Alternative Spring Break, spending early March engaged in an immersion experience in Indian Island, Maine.

Nine students in the Interdisciplinary Studies (IDS) Course Mission, Healthcare Ministry and Enculturation will travel with their professors, Karen Elliott, CPPS, DMin, and Susan Bernheisel, RN, MSN, EdD, to Guatemala for an immersion experience.

Service-learning experiences are a valuable supplement to the education students receive in the classrooms and labs of Mercy College and also benefit from philanthropic support to the College.

Each year, Sr. Sally Marie Bohnett, SND and Campus Minister, leads a group of students on an Alternative Spring Break Trip designed to provide a service-learning experience. The students departed on March 7, 2011 and return on the 11.

We will be heading to Indian Island, Maine, to work with the Penobscot Tribe, said Sr. Bohnett. Not only will the students participate in traditional tribal events, they will also learn about the government and culture of the Penobscot people.

And because we are being accompanied by the Sisters of Mercy, our students will gain a deeper understanding of the founding ideals of our own College, Sr. Bohnett continued. This will be an experience that will touch the heart and help us in the future to walk in solidarity with our native peoples.

The Tribe in turn will have the chance to meet and grow in understanding of committed students who are being trained to serve the poor and underserved. While the students will come away with a new-found appreciation for another culture, the tribal members will share the same appreciation for those students who are eager to help. Its a mutually beneficial experience. 

Service learning in Guatemala
Led by Sister Karen Elliott, Chairperson of the Religious Studies Department and Associate Professor of Religious Studies, and Susan Bernheisel, RN, MSN, EdD, nine Mercy College students will experience mission while working with children who are patients at the Santo Hermano Pedro long-term care facility in Antigua, Guatemala from March 4-11.

This facility is home to many children with chronic and often terminal illnesses are brought and left by their families. The students who participate in the trip are all members of the Interdisciplinary Studies (IDS) Course Mission, Healthcare Ministry, and Enculturation in which the mission trip to Guatemala is a required service learning component.

The students will work alongside two Precious Blood Sisters (a professor and a medical doctor) and a professor of nursing who is an RN to assist in providing medical services to children with severe physical and/or mental disabilities. At the end of each day, the students and professionals will pray together and reflect on the days activities.

The students will have hands-on encounters with the suffering poor, Sr. Elliott said. And in light of this total immersion experience, the students will come to appreciate their vocational call to healthcare and its fundamental dimension of mission.

A long-term hope would be that some of the students may even choose to dedicate their lives and profession to working among the poor whether in free clinics in Northwest Ohio and Southeast Michigan or in areas throughout the third world.

Following the trips, the students will lead follow-up discussions and give PowerPoint presentations to the College community and other audiences throughout Northwest Ohio and Southeast Michigan.



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