Students spend break volunteering

Several University student groups skipped vacations and took service trips instead.

Raya Zimmerman

Tim Roos didnâÄôt get his sunburn laying on a beach this spring break. Instead, it came from toiling under the hot Miami sun, shingling a roof alongside nine other students from the University of MinnesotaâÄôs Habitat for Humanity chapter.

Habitat was one of several groups that sent student volunteers across the world to assist in community projects and, for some, to bring their skills back to Minneapolis.

Habitat for Humanity

Stationed in Liberty City, which one Habitat member described as “the hole in the middle of a donut” for economic development in Miami, students for Habitat worked to shingle and tile roofs, among other projects.

The UniversityâÄôs chapter joined 250 students from schools nationwide to help low-income families build and repair houses. Besides Miami, University members also traveled to Sisters, Ore.

One of their most challenging tasks, according to Roos, a physiology junior and a trip leader, was shingling a roof, which required “a lot of patience and a lot of skill.”

An AmeriCorps volunteer was designated to instruct the students on the shingling, although, “He was one of the pickiest people IâÄôve ever worked with,” Roos said.

Roos said they would have to redo work several times over, triggering waves of frustration among the ranks. But Roos still had a positive outlook.

“The experience where you suffer with each other is that bonding experience,” he said.

Helping families with inadequate housing was “rewarding,” Roos said.

“One of us looked back and said, âÄòwe just put a roof over someoneâÄôs house.âÄô We all couldâÄôve gone to the beach, but we did this.”

Engineers Without Borders

Another group of students also devoted part of their spring break to working on a roof, although they traveled a little further âÄìâÄì roughly 2,000 miles from home. The group of seven students performed maintenance on a schoolâÄôs water supply system in Guatemala âÄìâÄì a project they began in 2007.

Dedicated to partnering with disadvantaged communities throughout the world and implementing sustainable economic and environmental projects, members of Engineers Without Borders applied their skills to a school in the community of San Juan Comalapa.

Before EWBâÄôs help, the school children did not have an independent water supply system and would have to bring water to attend school. Not every family had the resources to do so, so attendance was low.

EWB partnered with nonprofit Long Way Home and used the roof of the school to collect rainwater where it would flow into a storage tank to be pumped out and treated. They built the tank underground and crafted a kitchen on top of it.

“It looks like a school building with a swimming pool underneath it,” John Frieseke, an aerospace engineering senior and a project manager, said.

EWB has made some minor reparations due to normal wear and tear in the system.

“For me, itâÄôs a great way to practice what IâÄôm learning in the classroom,” Frieseke said. “The best part of it is really getting to partner with the community, getting to know them, and using the skills I have to make an impact in their daily lives.”

Interfaith dialogue between Islam and Christianity

Over break, a group of Muslims and Christians crossed not only geographic borders but personal and religious ones as well.

Members of Lutheran Campus Ministry, part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and Al-Madinah Cultural Center, a Muslim student group dedicated to creating a better understanding of Islam, said the spring break trip grew out of relationships among their friends and classmates.

The group of 27 volunteered in New York City at food shelves and shelters and worked at different Christian-affiliated organizations.

Outside of volunteering, the group visited Ground Zero, the site of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and Park 51, a Muslim community center, which Dina Elrashidy, a marketing and English sophomore, said was a “very emotional experience.”

The group was open-minded to each othersâÄô faiths, she said, allowing them to easily look past differences.

Elrashidy said after their daytime service work they bonded and found common ground while exploring the city.

Every morning and night they talked about the fundamentals of their different religions, Elrashidy said.

“We have a lot of similarities outside our faith as well,” Elrashidy said.


With three different missions, Y-Immersion students were scattered in destinations across the U.S.

Y-Immersion, a community service group run through the YMCA, took service learning trips to Chicago, San Francisco and New Orleans, and students brought back skills they can apply in Minneapolis.

The 11 students who ventured to Chicago focused on education and visited TurnAround Schools, which are marked by underperformance in areas such as test scores. There, they learned what strategies are being implemented to improve student performance.

Emma Paskewitz, a Chicano studies senior and one of the two trip leaders, said the group was “blown away” by the educational work that has been employed there.

“As a leader, itâÄôs been great to see a lot of students go through that process of learning,” Paskewitz said. For some students who wanted to be teachers, the trip validated that goal, she said.

University students also trekked to San Francisco to help the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, where they packaged meals and assembled safe injection kits. Brian Eby, a genetics junior and one of the trip leaders, said the groupâÄôs efforts benefited “at least 1,000 people.”

The third Immersion group found themselves in the hurricane-ravaged area of New Orleans, where they took a crash course on urban gardening and worked on composting and harvesting sprouts.

Elora Turner, a community organizing, political science and global studies senior and one of the trip leaders, said hearing the stories of resilience from the neighborhood residents “was the greatest benefit.”

She said the group didnâÄôt want to leave New Orleans but devised a plan to continue the work they are passionate about at home.

“We learned about what we can really do, and we need this in Minneapolis,” Turner said. “We can invest our talents in honoring the commons, honoring the community, and creating a sustainable future.”