Alternative Spring Break mission trip goes to Lake Charles, Louisiana

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Students hung sheetrock for a couple whose home was damaged in 2020 by Hurricane Laura. Photo courtesy of Shelby Ponikiewski.

The 2022 Alternative Spring Break mission trip took place this year in Lake Charles, Louisiana. From the first Sunday of spring break, March 13, until Saturday, March 19, eight University of Dallas students and two staff chaperones served the Lake Charles community that were affected by severe storms, staying in a lake house provided by Catholic Mission Trips. 

The Alternative Spring Break has been hosted by Campus Ministry since the ‘90s. Historically, the volunteers leave campus the weekend spring break begins and drive to the service location, which usually changes annually. 

Team members live with the communities they serve so that they can most effectively minister to their specific needs. Service to the community includes constructing houses, feeding the poor, tutoring children and aiding in making the community handicap accessible. After two years of cancellation due to COVID-19, Lake Charles was selected as the 2022 location because of the effect that severe storms.

The group rented a van and drove down on Sunday, March 13, stopping to visit the cloistered Dominican Nuns in Lufkin, Texas. On Monday, March 14, the group began their work, assisted by two contractors. Labor consisted of construction, flooring and demolition in needy areas of the community.

Tatiana Rios, junior theology major, appreciated the visit to the nuns and commented that the work was supremely gratifying. 

“I loved the work we did,” Rios said. “I loved that we traveled together, taking good stops. Especially to see the nuns!”

Shelby Ponikiewski, the faith formation and outreach campus minister, was tasked with organizing, advertising and booking the trip. She attended the mission trip along with the new campus minister, Deacon Ryan Sales, and commented on how beneficial the trip is for both the students and the staff.

“I went on Alternative Spring Break in 2013 when I was a student here at the university. I think it’s a valuable opportunity for students to get outside of themselves and serve a community outside of the bubble and take a break from the rigorous UD academics,” she said.

Madeleine Clements, junior biology major, agreed that taking a break from the Dallas environment and traveling to Lake Charles was ideal.

“I loved that it was in a place outside of the DFW area, but that the travel was not too strenuous or long,” she said. 

Each student is asked to fundraise on their own in order to fund the trip. Campus Ministry sponsors several of these events for students in order to give them an opportunity to raise money, including the Poinsettia Sale and Angel Tree, according to the Campus Ministry homepage. 

The self-funded aspect of the mission provided a larger scope of availability for students to volunteer, and was an integral part of the experience, according to Clements. 

“I loved that we fundraised for it, that made it far more possible for me to come,” she said. “I loved that we included students of both genders and all ages from all over campus, it made for an interesting and diverse group to work with. I loved that it was in a place outside of the DFW area, but that the travel was not too strenuous or long.” 

The spread of students who volunteered consisted of one senior, three juniors and four freshmen. 

The trip was infused with faith, and the gratification begotten from the array of community work was evident, inspiring students to want to return next year.

“I loved the work we did. No matter if it’s construction work again or something else, it’ll be great,” Rios said. “Daily Mass and adoration almost every day and a chance for confession was incredible.”

The location for next year’s mission is yet to be determined, but Ponikiewski hinted that “we are prayerfully considering whether to return to Lake Charles again next year.”

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