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Spring Service and Justice Trips encourage stories, giving voice to the voiceless

Among the most powerful acts undertaken by 152 Creighton University students during this spring’s Schlegel Center for Service and Justice Trips were the simple ones of opening ears and opening eyes.

From there, the heart could only follow suit.

At 23 sites around the nation, Creighton students used their spring break week, March 5 through 13, to serve, to listen, to witness to people in places where even those simple turns were enough to make a big difference. As most students learned, while building houses or helping in a food pantry measurably improves a community, being willing to hear someone’s story can change a life.

“You don’t have to change the whole world,” said Analese Snyder, a graduate student in the Heider College of Business from La Mesa, California, who spent a week among the homeless population of Denver. “You just have to ask someone their name.”

Over Tuesday’s lunch hour, Snyder and nine other Service and Justice Trip participants shared their stories of service and connection with a roomful of students, faculty and staff in Lower St. John’s. What became quickly apparent was the unqualifiable experience most of the students had in forging a relationship with someone they met during the trip.

Snyder shared the story of becoming immersed in the homeless experience in Denver, including one day when students were encouraged to interact with people on the streets in the same way homeless people often do — by asking for the time of day. It was one of the more disheartening elements of the trip, Snyder said, given how many people ignored or shunned her as she approached to ask a simple question.

Narrating her story of living in community with a portion of the 13,000 homeless people in Denver, she said, is part of the testament the SCSJ encourages all students to give when talking about the trips they take.

“You don’t just say, ‘It was amazing,’” Snyder said. “You tell a story. You incorporate the service into someone else’s story. It’s how I learned there are 13,000 homeless people in Denver and what their lives are like on a daily basis. That’s how you learn and hopefully, how you inspire people to start helping.”

Jenna Vrable, a first-year College of Arts and Sciences student from Papillion, was part of a contingent at the Annunciation House in El Paso, Texas. Students lived for a week with immigrants facing the challenges of attempting to immigrate to the United States.

“So much of it is so hard to describe,” Vrable said. “But you stay with the people who are immigrating and the volunteers working to help them and you learn so much. And in that short period of time, you can’t help but want to learn how to love and have that unconditional feeling about somebody you don’t even know.”

Being able to sit down with the dispossessed, the homeless, the hungry and the persecuted resonated for all of the students sharing their experiences Tuesday.

Oliver Alonzo from Santiago, Dominican Republic, and Samantha Stoupa of Omaha, both sophomores in the College of Arts and Sciences, discovered they didn’t have to venture far from Creighton’s campus to encounter a situation like what other students found in inner-city Memphis, or rural West Virginia, or along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Stoupa co-coordinated a North Omaha immersion trip culminating in aiding the Abide Network in its mission to eradicate crime and drug abuse in North Omaha neighborhoods.

“We truly saw the future of service in Omaha with Abide,” Stoupa said. “It was a learning experience as much as it was a service trip.”

Alonzo spent the week at the Siena/Francis House, a homeless shelter and substance abuse recovery center at 17th and Nicholas streets in Omaha.

“Most of us would use the phrase ‘eye-opening’ to describe what we saw,” he said. “But for all the eyes that were opened, I kept asking myself, ‘What are we really providing them with?’ We picked up some trash, but mostly we just hung out and talked with the people at the shelter. It was about the third day that it hit me: this is how simple service can be, this is how you make a difference in a person’s life. We listened to their stories. Being able to hear their stories and now go out and share our stories about what we witnessed and what the world can do, we carry their light with us.”

Creighton University is a Jesuit, Catholic university bridging health, law, business and the arts and sciences for a more just world.