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‘Good stuff’: Creighton students take SCSJ Spring Break Service & Justice Trip to North Omaha

In the dust and the soot of a North Omaha basement, Wednesday morning, March 8, seven Creighton University students were stripping out old electrical wiring and ductwork to make an old house new again.

The seven were part of the contingent of nearly 150 Creighton students who set out about the nation last week as part of the Schlegel Center for Service and Justice’s 34th annual Spring Break trips. The Service & Justice Trips give students the opportunity to use the spring break recess to live, work and learn in communities and among people toward whom the University’s highest endeavor — to be men and women for and with others — is aimed.

During the week, students engaged in dialogue, social justice advocacy and service work at 19 different sites around the country, including Memphis, Minneapolis, Albuquerque, Cleveland, and along the southern border with Mexico. Closer to home, Creighton students were also working in their own backyards in Omaha.

“Sometimes we hear people say, ‘Don’t go past Cuming Street,’” said Hannah Botkin, a junior from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on the North Omaha Abide trip. “But I’ve done a little work in North Omaha, I’ve seen for myself that the stereotypes don’t really hold up. You come eight blocks into North Omaha and it may look a little different from Creighton, but there’s still a community here that is like other communities and wants what other communities have. This week has been great in exposing us to that.”

Working with Abide Omaha, a nonprofit centered on fostering healthy, connected communities, the seven students in the old house were helping turn it into what Abide calls a Lighthouse. A family connected to Abide lives in a Lighthouse and begins the process of changing a neighborhood from the inside by reaching out to neighbors and helping weave together components of a safer, healthier neighborhood.

It’s the second time SCSJ has teamed with Abide on a Service & Justice Trip, though the University and Abide have partnered on other projects in the last several years. Abide was founded in 1989 by Ron and Twany Dotzler, whose son Josh, BA’09, is a former standout Creighton basketball player who now also works for the nonprofit.

Broud Freeman, Abide’s construction manager and a volunteer coordinator, said working with Creighton students always turns into a learning experience on several fronts.

“We love building relationships with young people who are eager to be a part of this,” said Freeman, standing in the house that Abide and the Creighton students had teamed up to strip down to its studs. “Creighton students have always been a pleasure to work with. They’ve been so willing to learn. It allows us to move quickly on our mission. We hope to have somebody in here by April.”

The students spent their mornings last week at work and the afternoons and evenings engaging with residents and stakeholders who live in North Omaha, and the men and women of Abide. Students have taken and heard testimonies of what life looks like north of Cuming Street.

They took out a fireplace, covering themselves in a few decades’ worth of ash and soot, and cleaned up the remnants of the demolition crew. In the basement, it was a dirty job pulling on metal conduit and snipping out wires.

Putting a crowbar to a stubborn piece of ductwork fixed to the basement’s joists, Lizzie Mause pulls hard and frees it with an apropos exclamation of “Good stuff!”

“These problems don’t just exist in other places,” said Mause, a junior from Fort Collins, Colorado, and a co-coordinator on the Abide experience. “They’re right here. What we’ve seen this week, in working and talking with people from the community, is that when we physically engage on these issues that we learn about in the classroom, we can make a difference.”

Mause has taken part in three previous Service & Justice Trips, each a touchstone of her Creighton experience.

“If you don’t do an SCSJ trip while you’re at Creighton, you are missing out,” she said. “This is where social justice happens. To me, it doesn’t feel real until you see it, witness it and start to do something about it.”

Vy Do, a freshman from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, was on her first trip and found it unlike anything else she has ever done.

“It has been an amazing experience,” Do said. “I’ve never held a hammer before. I thought this might just be helping the homeless or something like that, but this has been a very practical, very deeply moving experience — physically, emotionally, spiritually. I think it’s important that students take part in a trip like this. I’m definitely going to do it again.”

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