SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - Not to make you jealous, but just think for a moment about temperatures in the mid 80s, stunning coastlines and a clear blue ocean. Wish you were there? Forty Slippery Rock University students experienced those pleasantries when they visited Jamaica over winter break, but the weather was not the purpose of their visit. This was a community-service sojourn.
Students lived and worked in Petersfield and Galloway, two rural communities in the Parish of Westmoreland. They tutored children at Coke's View Primary School, Petersfield Primary School and the Early Childhood Center, painted the schools and cleaned up a park.
Jamaica, the fifth largest nation in the Caribbean, has a population of 2.8 million. The Parish of Westmoreland is in southwest Jamaica.
"We spent our days working with students age 3 to 12 - assisting the teachers in various ways," said Grace Evans, a mathematics major from Apollo. "Some of the SRU volunteers worked with specific students who were struggling. Some aided in regular classroom activities, and some even taught the entire class for full days of school. We also spent some time in the Petersfield Park, a community park that was a dump 10 years ago, but thanks to community members and volunteers it is (now) a beautiful area for children to play and to hold community events."
Evans said she came up with the idea for a program in Jamaica last March and worked nine months to pull it off. She visited Jamaica in the summer of 2012 through her internship with Amizade Global Service-Learning, an organization that focuses on empowering individuals worldwide through service and learning.
"This helped me in organizing the program since I had already been to the community," Evans said.
Twenty SRU students visited Jamaica Jan. 12-19, with 20 following them Jan. 19-26.
Each day, students were assigned an elementary teacher at one of the schools and would spend their entire day helping to tutor students or assisting the teacher.
"In one instance, the fifth-grade teacher was on maternity leave, and a substitute teacher had not yet been hired, so for the week, three of our SRU students actually taught the fifth grade class," said Bruce Orvis, SRU associate professor in the School of Business and trip adviser.
The trip was one of the "care breaks" offered by the University's Center for Student Involvement and Leadership.
"The value of the experience for our students was almost immeasurable," said Brad Kovaleski, CSI director. "One of the University's core values is community service. Students worked hands-on in the community and learned valuable lessons about the difference they can make through involvement."
Students said they enjoyed engaging the community and acquiring a sense of global citizenship by identifying and meeting the needs of children.
"This project appealed to me because we were working with children. My passion, ambition and motivation come from seeing the smile on kids' faces," said Corey Fraction, a community counseling graduate student from Slippery Rock. "I believe that if you can make a difference in one kid's life, you set a path for many more to be impacted by your positive actions."
Fraction said his ethic of service was not to go to Jamaica to be a "hero and save the day. The ethic of service that I was taught to have was humility. Be humble about your work. You are no better than the work you do. Learning to be humble always leaves room for growth."
Oliver Ranier, a criminology major from Penn Hills, said he did service work in high school so when he learned about the trip to Jamaica, he couldn't pass on the opportunity.
"For a place like Jamaica, many people look at it as a very beautiful place, a place mainly for vacation and the people in other non-attractive areas are never noticed," he said. "This trip showed me that everyone is not living the luxurious life. Helping others really is important to me and is something I enjoy doing."
Ranier said it also provided an international experience, a resume booster for graduate school or employment. "Many students want to study abroad but don't get the chance due to certain circumstances, so this was a way to help a community out and gain international experience," he said.
Nate Merhaut, an exercise science major from Canfield, Ohio, said he was willing to be involved because he has always wanted to travel outside the U.S and because the trip supported SRU's mission of community service. He has done community service with his church at different places in the U.S. but had never traveled abroad.
"I always see community service as a win-win situation," Merhaut said. "Doing something for someone else from the goodness of your heart and not getting paid for it can be one of the most rewarding things," he said. "I expected to grow a tremendous amount from going on this trip," he said, adding that the foreign experience was "a growing experience in itself."
He also enjoyed trying the food, hearing their music and hearing stories from locals. "It was one of the best experiences of my life," he said. "We did not get paid to help in the community, but we gained a wonderful experience that money can't buy."
Sarah Klawinski, a history major from New Kensington, said she believes it is important to help the less fortunate.
"We hear about so many negative things happening in the world and not enough positive," she said. "Doing service with fellow people who want to make a positive impact not only builds your personal self-worth, but also that of your peers and that of the people you are helping. I am a college student with a six-week winter break. Why not use some of that time to do something new and beneficial to my fellow man?"
Slippery Rock University is Pennsylvania's premier public residential university. Slippery Rock University provides students with a comprehensive learning experience that intentionally combines academic instruction with enhanced educational and learning opportunities that make a positive difference in their lives.