Dr. Geraldine Stirtz
UNK Office for Service-Learning director, 308.865.8957

While students from many colleges and universities are spending their spring break catching up on rest or enjoying fun in the sun, several groups of University of Nebraska at Kearney students are volunteering their time and talents in Thailand, Mexico, Texas and Vieques Island.

Three UNK students are among a group who are helping with Tsunami relief in the fishing villages north and south of Phuket, Thailand. The three–Rodney Keim of Omaha, Brock Fairbrother ofSuperior and Trent Tophoj of Grand Island–are among a group of Campus Crusade for Christ students and sponsors who volunteered to work there this week.

“In order to go on this trip you had to be selected by local and national Campus Crusade for Christ ministries,” Keim said.

“We were chosen based on involvement and character,” he said, adding that, “This is not a light project we are taking on. We will witness the devastation and talk to people whose lives have been turned upside down.”

Students will be placed in one of three different crews: construction, sanitation, or debris and body removal. Construction crews will focus primarily on rebuilding houses, sanitation crews will work on make-shift restrooms, and the third will deal with debris and body removal.

“We don’t get to choose which group we are placed in,” Fairbrother said. “We will find out when we arrive in Thailand.” Each student raised $2,500 through phone calls and support letters to church congregations, family and friends.

UNK’s Christian Student Fellowship (CSF) is sponsoring a trip to Sabinas, Mexico to offer encouragement and relief to residents of villages in the economically stricken area. Thirty-five students and sponsors are sleeping on a dusty church floor, eating cold food and working long hours in the hot sun.

Participants will be involved with construction work, distribution of relief supplies, teaching English as a second language, setting up a medical clinic and providing assistance to the Mexican nationals at a church in the area. CSF students will also lead worship services and an afternoon Bible story time for children at churches in the area. A team of students plans to host a neighborhood carnival for the Mexican children as well.

“I’m excited about this trip to Mexico, because it’s my first opportunity to serve in this way,” said Amy Putnam, a UNK sophomore from Holdrege. “I can’t wait to help the people there.”

“The total cost of the trip is more than $16,000, $4,000 to $5,000 of which will be used to purchase building materials for the construction projects,” said Greg Swinney, CSF ministry director. “The students have raised that entire amount, and local businesses and individuals have donated food, clothing, transportation, tents, toys and water to help fund the trip.” This is the 14th consecutive year CSF has taken university students to Mexico during spring break, bringing the total number of students involved over the years to more than 1,000.

In addition to the CSF trip to Mexico, the UNK Office for Service Learning is sponsoring an Alternative Spring Break for students.

According to Dr. Gerry Stirtz, who directs the Office of Service Learning, the Alternative Spring Break’s destination is the Down Home Ranch in Elgin, Texas. Approximately 20 UNK students and sponsors will join others from campuses across the United States for the Ranch’s College Mission Week.

“College Mission Week is an opportunity for students to assist in the spring preparations for the ranch, including painting, repairing, construction, horticulture and office work,” said Ryan Roderhorst of Kearney, a student organizer for the trip.

“Planning and organizing a special event for the residents will be the highlight activity of the week,” he said.

“The Ranch is home to 10 special needs adults, offering them challenging work and a loving community,” Dr. Stirtz said. The Ranch consists of 267 acres, nine greenhouses, a camp center and a new garden center. During the summer months, the Ranch hosts summer camps for youth with disabilities.

Dr. Marc Albrecht, UNK associate professor of biology, is leading a diverse group of faculty, undergraduate and graduate students through an investigation of the tropical and marine ecosystems of Vieques Island. Vieques Island is located near Puerto Rico. The group will be working with the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) on the largest FWS refuge in the Caribbean.

According to Dr. Albrecht, participants will help the FWS assess the biological diversity of the refuge by doing a Rapid Assessment Protocol. The group will have the opportunity to attend lectures, take part in tours and explore the largely undeveloped island, which includes mangroves, a bioluminescent bay, living coral reefs and lagoons. The group will also be introduced to the island’s history–from the days of Columbus to the withdrawal of the U.S. military less than two years ago.

Christian Student Fellowship trip to Mexico participants include:

Ainsworth         Stefanie Schaefer
Arcadia         Melanie Moore
Beatrice         Tom McCarty
Broken Bow         Jonathan Miller and Travis Wood
Chapman         Scott Gamblin
Grand Island     Ruth Jensen, Josh Casey and John Ludwig
Gothenburg         Danielle Butterfield
Hastings         Kristen Horton and Stacy Hartwig
Hemingford     Andrea Engelhaupt
Holdrege         Amy Putnam
Imperial         Ashley Jo Johnson
Indianola         Michelle Neel
Kearney         Abby Gerdes, Luke Moore,      Elizabeth Stevens, Jessica Feese, Heather Sherwood, Sara Slingsby,
Elizabeth Walcheck and Andrew Walters
Lexington         Kayla Paris
Loomis         Brittany Earsom and Breann Horn
Omaha         Stephanie Queen
O’Neill         Sarah Tompkins
Ord             Jacqueline Stoltenberg
Ravenna         Jeremy Wilke
Stanton         Grant Gadeken
Waverly         Tessa Mills
Weeping Water     Zachary Hartman

Alternative Spring Break participants include:

Sponsors leading the Alternative Spring Break include:

Kearney         Joan Smith and Conrad Smith

Student participants in the Alternative Spring Break, listed alphabetically by hometown, include:

Bridgeport         Alecia Laurent
Fremont         Jill Johnson
Grand Island     Emily Hays and Heidi Ruzicka
Kearney         Jason Morgan, Hoa Viet Nguyen, Tram Nguyen, Kaede Nishida, Ryan Rodehorst and Olga Stasishena
Lexington         Wilfredo Cabrera and Wadad Maloley
Loup City         Katie Peters
McLean         Jamie Backhaus
Pierce         Jody Silhacek
Valentine         Kevin Sokol

     Plano         Ryan Hare