News and Events
Spring Cleaning for the Soul
Surrounded by the wealth of Malibu in California, the extreme poverty in many areas of America and the world can be easily ignored or forgotten. Through Project Serve at spring break, 14 groups of Pepperdine students used their vacation time to remind themselves about those less fortunate and actually do something about it too. To assist communities in building homes, mentoring children, providing medical care, and fostering faith, they traveled to the furthest reaches of Guatemala, Ecuador, and the Dominican Republic, as well as places closer to home such as New York City, Seattle, and Chicago.
As team leader for Project Serve Tampa, Elizabeth Lyons, a junior political science major, painted two buildings for Hope Children's Home during the spring break activities from February 28 to March 7.
"We wanted to help in any way we could," she says. "Some of the highlights of the trip were playing with the children at recess, going to their basketball games, and getting to listen with them to our chaperone, Paul Wozniak, talk about his work tracing Biblical history in the Middle East."
Like many of Project Serve's long-time participants, Lyons became involved early on in her Pepperdine career. She fell in love with the program's mission as a freshman working on a project with the track team. "Since then I have participated ever year. I used to think of service as a chore that was required of me, but I've realized that I actually get more out of service than I put into it."
Project Serve Coordinator Harris Kenny explains that the first goal of each team when it arrives at its site is "meeting the immediate needs of the community in helping with construction or manual labor."
This was certainly the case for the group building homes with Habitat for Humanity, the team that worked with Health Talents International in Guatemala assisting doctors and dentists in treating under-served populations, and the students hosting sanitation programs with Heart Springs International: Water Well Project, also in Guatemala.
The second goal, Kenny explains, is to provide support for the organizational staff and interns. "It helps them to know that people from usually very far away are flying in to their city to learn about what they're doing and to help out," he says.
Sophomore Christopher Bischel served with Shiloh Ministries to tutor children and assist teachers in South Bronx, New York. Each of the 14 students in Bischel's group were assigned a class, ranging from kindergarten to fifth grade. "The teachers really care about the kids and try to improve their lives. Most of us enjoyed hearing our teachers work and talk with one another."
The third goal of Project Serve trips is for the students to bond as a group and learn about themselves through their experience helping others, says Kenny. "Will this be an experience that they will apply in radical ways? Many people reconsider their course of study or career path after Project Serve. Hopefully they will feel called to serve in unique ways, and apply their ability to serve the Kingdom of God."
While Project Serve is limited in being just one week of service, first-timer Bischel was surprised by what a difference even just that one week could make to the communities being served. "While it was hard at first to see how a week could change anyones life, as the week moved on I could see what effect my group had on the school," he says. "The stress level in each class was high, and our job was to mitigate that to some degree. Visiting the school for a week helped me understand the situation that some poor inner-city populations are in."
Ultimately, it is the relationships built between students and the communities they serve that have the most impact on both parties, making the entire experience not just worthwhile, but unforgettable. For Bischel that included the bonds he made with the children he tutored, as well as the relationships he formed with the teachers who work with those children year-round.
"Elementary lunch time is total chaos and the food is terrible but I loved lunch time so much," he remembers. "It really helped me connect with the kids; I could teach them how to make origami and watch them interact with one another. Most of us also enjoyed hearing our teachers work and as the week went on I gained a deep respect for them - they really care about the kids and try to improve their lives."
That is what Project Serve is about: strengthening the resources of communities in need and learning the meaning of service. It is about sacrificing vacation time to utilize God-given talents in areas that sorely need them.
As freshman Hannah Dewalt, a member of the Tampa team with Hope Children's Home, says, "My involvement encouraged me to serve others. It was refreshing to have not just a change in schedule, but to be so very productive with my spring break."
For more information about Project Serve and volunteer activities that occur throughout the year, visit the Pepperdine Volunteer Center Web site.