Students from The U go AWOL to help those in need this winter

VERMILLION, S.D. -- Forty USD students and four staff members spent winter break in North and Central American communities. As part of the Center for Academic Engagement’s Alternative Week of Off-campus Learning (AWOL) program, a student-led service-learning organization, students volunteered at a children’s hospital, constructed a future school and assisted Native American youths.

The AWOL group in Memphis, Tenn. served at the LeBonheur Children's Hospital looking after patients while parents took much needed breaks. The students also helped re-paint a local charter school and visited the National Civil Rights Museum in the Lorraine Motel, where Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in 1968.

“I believe we were able to make a difference in the children’s lives at the hospital,” said Alex Brummer, a psychology and pre-occupational therapy major of Council Bluffs, Iowa, and student site leader for the trip from Council Bluffs, Iowa, “whether it was just sitting with them so their parents could eat or playing a game and making them feel like a kid.”

Additional USD students volunteering in Memphis included Abby Wolf of Jordan, Minn.; Emilee Davenport of Sioux City, Iowa; Hillaree Farrell of Des Moines, Iowa; Haleigh Kreber of Manson, Iowa; Moses Kiplagat of Nairobi, Kenya; Christina Ray of Sioux Falls, S.D.; Katarina Gombocz of Vermillion; Aleisia Gomez of Spearfish, S.D.; Leah Akland of Beresford, S.D.; Alyssa Limke of North Sioux City, S.D.; Allison McEntee of Lennox, S.D.; Erica Johnson and Emily Tracy of Vermillion; Seth Parsons of Pierre, S.D.; and Brock Schardin, graduate student and Spanish instructor.

Fourteen students and two learning partners traveled to San Miguel Escobar, Guatemala to learn more about the culture.  Working through Community Collaborations, Inc., volunteers spent time building a room in a community member’s home and construction of a future school. Additionally, the group visited a macadamia farm, spent a day with coffee farmers and visited an indigenous weaving cooperative.

“The Guatemalan people were always so happy, appreciated life and thankful for the little they have,” said Tyler Miiller, a senior biology major from Mitchell. “Everyone we worked with treated us out of pure love.”

In addition to Miiller, trip participants included Addie Mulligan of Andover, Minn.; Katie Nielsen and Abby Gillogly of Dell Rapids, S.D.; Cassie Garner of Sioux Falls, S.D.;  Reanne Zahn of Tea, S.D.; Nick Weinandt of Yankton, S.D.; Derek Seeley of Gregory, S.D.; Katie Beckman of White Lake, S.D.; Daniel Davies of Vermillion; Katherine Christianson of Rapid City; Anna Knotek of Omaha, Neb.; Alyssa Day of Sioux Falls, S.D.; and Kevin Cwach of Yankton, S.D.; and USD Learning Partners Karl Reasoner, graduate assistant for the Center for Academic Engagement and Whitney Siegfried, Coordinator for Academic Engagement.

AWOL sent students to the Crow Creek Sioux Reservation near Fort Thompson. The group worked with Diamond Willow Ministries and The Boys and Girls Club, focusing on reservation youths. USD students spent time re-constructing a community center, painting and shoveling sidewalks. The students also learned of Native American culture and life on the reservation.

“I think all of us realized there is a lot of service for us to do here in South Dakota, and we really enjoyed seeing the diverse culture right here in our own state,” said co-site leader Alexa Walker, junior social work major from Vermillion. “The participants also hope to make a return visit in the spring.”

Students from USD traveling to Crow Creek were Sara Boyum of West Point, Neb.; Jessica Colburn of Aurora, Neb.; Erin Krause of Tekamah, Neb.; Leah Kobes of Sioux City, Iowa; Becca Linneweber of Garretson, S.D.; Tanner Hento of Avon, S.D.; Travis Snyders of Larchwood, Iowa; Caitlin Blumer of Yankton, S.D.; Walker and Jessa Waters of Vermillion; and Shane Bryan of Oacoma, S.D.

The AWOL program, in its eighth year on campus, will send USD students to Chicago, Ill., New Orleans, La., Sioux Falls, S.D., Clear Fork, Tenn. and Arches National Park during spring break in March. Prior to departure, students participate in six weeks of educational training. More information about AWOL is available at http://www.usd.edu/engage/service-learning/awol-alternative-breaks.cfm.

Download a photo of Alex Brummer (Council Bluffs, Iowa) and Emilee Davenport (Sioux City, Iowa) with two patients at the LeBonheur Children’s Hospital in Memphis.

Download a photo of Seth Parsons (Pierre, S.D.) with a patient at the LeBonheur Children’s Hospital in Memphis.