YMCA program takes students to other states, countries

Elizabeth Putnam

During May Intersession last spring, while some students sat down to discuss the process of moving into summer housing, Kera Jean Peterson sat down with members of the African National Congress in South Africa to discuss the process of creating a unified nation.

The experience was part of the YMCA Immersion program, which allows students to participate in service projects both domestically and internationally during winter and spring breaks.

“You become aware of the connections that you have Ö and the people that you touch,” Peterson said. “Programs like immersion allow the participants to see that they have connections to people everywhere.”

Mark Haase traveled to Texas twice when he was a student at the University during the late ’80s. He visited sanctuaries and orphanages as a volunteer focusing on refugee and immigration issues.

That experience eventually compelled him to become program adviser.

Haase said the program facilitates experiential learning, in which students meet face-to-face with those affected by hardship.

“We attempt to come away with a balance and realistic understanding of the issue and hopefully ideas for the solutions,” Haase said. “We form an intentional community of students who come together and work to understand the issues together.”

Isabella Nartey will spend her winter break in Texas, one of three trips the group has planned for January.

Students will examine border economics in Texas and Mexico, uranium mining in New Mexico and HIV/AIDS in southern California.

Nartey said the program is a hands-on way of learning about current issues facing the world.

“I’ve been on three trips with this program Ö I have found them enlightening and self-empowering,” she said.

A trip to Ghana is planned for May Intersession, Nartey said.

She and Peterson will lead the trip focusing on the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Africa.

Haase said it’s a unique opportunity to be a student leader.

“Other colleges have these programs, like St. Thomas, but what makes this one different is that it allows students to plan, organize and run the trips,” Haase said.

He said enrollment has been down the last couple of years because of adjustments to the semester system, but participation has increased this year.

Administrative grants, fund-raisers and scholarships fund part of the trips, but most of the cost comes out of the students’ pockets, Haase said.

The average cost is approximately $350 to $450 for domestic trips and approximately $2,100 for international trips.

But Nartey said the money is well worth it.

“The people who apply to go on the trips are interested in the issues that we are studying, so they are in it for the experience,” Nartey said.

The deadline has passed for winter break trips, but applications for spring and summer programs will be available in January.

Peterson said the May Intersession trip application might be available before winter break.

Elizabeth Putnam welcomes your comments at [email protected]