AWOL students from The U spend winter break in service

VERMILLION, S.D. -- Thirty-one students and three staff members from The University of South Dakota spent winter break learning about social issues and community service in two very different parts of the world: Chicago, Ill., and the country of Belize.

As part of the Center for Academic Engagement’s AWOL (Alternative Week of Off-campus Learning Program), 15 students spent a week in Chicago volunteering with several agencies and another group of students traveled to San Ignacio, Belize, to learn about the culture and education, health, and social justice history of the small Central American country. 

While in Chicago, the USD students learned about social issues associated with poverty and hunger. They also assisted with community building projects and the effects of gang violence. Students tutored students with Build Chicago, a program that engages at-risk youth to realize their educational and career potential; served two evening meals to more than 200 homeless; served breakfast at Inspiration Café, a program for those affected by homelessness; and helped patrol routes used by students to get home after school.   The group also worked with Rumble Arts, a community arts organization that offers classes in a wide variety of creative disciplines and regularly hosts cultural events.


“Having an opportunity to reach out to a community that is easily misunderstood has made us all evolve. We have all made connections to a community that is vastly different from our own, and we have been inspired, said Hillarie Maddox of Rapid City, S.D., student site leader for the trip. “Our group has been moved in the spirit of service to become active citizens in a way that pushes us to continue learning about how we can change the world around us.” In addition to Maddox and AmeriCorps VISTA member Donielle Gustafson, the Chicago AWOL group included students Maggie Graham of Mitchell, S.D., Marcus Brooks, Monique Ellefson and Samantha Meyer of Sioux Falls, S.D., April Matson of Rapid City, S.D., Holley Anderton of Alcester, S.D., Mollie Friedmann of Sioux City, Iowa, Nyah Vanterpool and Eric Wiedenman of Huron, S.D., Brooke Stones of Sutton, Neb., Samantha Lauer of Hartington, Neb., Joseph Tielke of Yankton, S.D., Christa Kemnitz of Platte, S.D., and Jenna Warkenthien of Clark, S.D.

Download a photograph of Marcus Brooks of Sioux Falls working with Chicago youths through the Build Chicago program. Sixteen students and members of the CAE staff traveled to San Ignacio where they stayed with host families and worked through the ProBelize organization during their week of service. The student volunteers spent most of their time working on the site of a future orphanage to be named Barzakh Falah.  The group helped construct a home for the future caretaker.  They also dug a trench to lay pipe for irrigation and built part of a road made out of recycled tires.  Additionally, the group painted the interior of a school and aided in the deconstruction of a class building that had been previously destroyed by a fire.

“This AWOL experience has been absolutely transformative for me,” added Thomas Emanuel, a political science major at The U from Deadwood, S.D.  “Service was an important part of my life before but thanks to this trip, service is my life now.”

AWOL volunteers in Belize were Samantha Berres of St. Paul, Minn., Michelle Hiatt from Spencer, Neb., Kaiti Strayer of Sioux City, Iowa,  Joe Cooch of Spearfish, S.D., Tom Emanuel from Deadwood, S.D., Jake Jessop of Presho, S.D., Jessica Kokesh from Yankton, S.D., Jeremy Nebelsick of Huron, S.D., Jordan St. Pierre of Beresford, S.D., Matt Sutera from Tyndall, S.D, Angela Helseth of Brandon, S.D., Kayla McInerney and Amanda Carrell of Elk Point, S.D., Alyssa Day, Jay Schander and Shauna Neiles from Sioux Falls, S.D., and trip advisors Brooke Roberts, coordinator for global learning at USD and Jacquie Lonning, coordinator for academic engagement.

Download a photograph of Jacob Jessop of Presho and Kayla McInerney of Elk Point filling bags full of dirt for construction of an orphanage in Belize.

AWOL is a student-led service-learning program that encourages active citizenship, immerses students in educational service-learning experiences through exposure to diverse social issues, and encourages post-trip application of those experiences.  AWOL is housed in the Center for Academic Engagement.