Geneva College students spend spring break helping out in Aliquippa
Junior Janie Owens, 23, of Tulare, Calif., adds rocks to a wall Monday as a group of Geneva College students use their spring break vacations to work on flood control at a trailer park off of Spring Street in Aliquippa.
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While thousands of college students traveled to semi-tropical beaches for a week of fun and sun, seven students from Geneva College made "Quest Trips" to Aliquippa.
The Geneva students spent five days working on a flood control and recovery project, which involved manual labor that was tough and gritty but satisfying, they say.
"God is the one who told me to be a teacher and He told me to come here" to Aliquippa, said Sam Weaver, a junior, who is majoring in secondary education and chemistry. "I think there is a lot I can learn here."
Mr. Weaver, of Indiana, Pa., spent most of Monday near Spring Street "in the hole making a man-made riverbank," he explained, in a cell phone interview.
Students formed wire mesh into cages, which they stuffed with bricks and rubble from demolished buildings. The cages will shore up creek banks. Students will top the cages with "gardens" of evergreen creepers and wild flowers.
In 2007, heavy rains caused flooding in Aliquippa along Franklin Avenue and nearby Spring Street. In past years, Geneva students have spent their spring breaks helping to clean up flooded houses and businesses.
Geneva, which is based in Beaver Falls, has been sending students on Quest Trips over spring break for the past five years. Students receive no course credit for their work -- it's all volunteer work that is in keeping with the college mission.
The college describes itself as a "Comprehensive Christian college ... founded in the tradition of the Reformed Christian faith. Geneva prepares students to serve Christ in all areas of society: work, family and the church."
Quest Trips, designed by Geneva's Center for Faith and Practice, encourage students to become involved in service and social justice issues.
This semester, 30 students are participating in teams working until Monday in Aliquippa, Pittsburgh, New Orleans and Washington, D.C.
The Quest Trip to Aliquippa is led by Alan Flick, 25, a Chippewa native who is working on his master's degree in higher education. The trip isn't earning him any course credit, either, but he said it fits into Geneva's mission of "integrating faith with learning."
Mr. Flick and the other students are working in partnership with John Stanley, who operates the Uncommon Grounds Cafe at 380 Franklin Ave. The 5-year-old cafe, which is owned by Church Army USA, and is staffed by volunteers, is as much about uniting local churches and "building community" as it is about selling coffee and food, Mr. Stanley said.
Geneva students and Mr. Stanley are also working with Aliquippa Impact, a youth development organization.
When the floodwaters rose in 2007, the Uncommon Grounds Cafe wasn't as hard hit as nearby homes and businesses, Mr. Stanley said, because "we had done a lot of plumbing work" including fixing pipes.
"We had many volunteers" at the cafe, "including a guy who kayaked in," Mr. Stanley said, "so we were able to spread out and help others."
One of those who benefited last year was Mike Vlashitz, 70. Flood damage, including mold, had made his home unlivable.
Mr. Vlashitz called the students "a wonderful group of people who came in here and really worked hard." He said they knocked down a wall, installed a door, repaired the bathroom and made other repairs that he could not make because his back had been broken in a plane crash.
This marks the third Aliquippa Quest trip for Hannah Keeler, a junior, who is majoring in Biblical languages.
"I love the people here and the churches we deal with and the cafe," said Ms. Keeler, of Indiana, Pa.
"Last year, we did interior work for Mike," she said. "The year before, we did painting and reconstruction inside the cafe. This is our first year for outdoor construction, and everyone is having fun and singing as we work."
Janie Owens, a junior majoring in elementary education, said she doesn't go home to Tulare, Calif., for spring breaks because it would be too expensive to travel so far. "My parents are excited that I'm doing this," she said.
Like fellow education major Sam Weaver, she may be interested in working in Aliquippa after she graduates.
"Areas like Aliquippa really need teachers," Mr. Weaver said. "We can learn as we work here."
Students did fundraisers to cover the costs of food and lodging, said Missy Davis, assistant director of Geneva's Center for Faith and Practice. The Aliquippa Questers got some help from a faculty member.
For the fourth year, philosophy professor Esther Meek opened the doors of her home in Center.
"I'm blessed with a roomy house," Ms. Meek said, and her three daughters are grown up and off on their own.
"I am passionate about Aliquippa," Ms. Meek said. "I've had as many as 10 Geneva students here at spring break. I put the women upstairs and the men downstairs. I view it as a B & B. I make them breakfast" and they pitch in on the other meals.
The Aliquippa Quest Trip "is a beautiful thing." John from the Uncommon Grounds "has really set a tone for Christian churches linking arms" to make Aliquippa a better place, Ms. Meek said.
Geneva students traveling to Pittsburgh are working with the Pittsburgh Project and the food kitchen at the Hot Metal Bridge Church, connecting with John Stahl-Wert of Serving Leaders and working with alumni who serve in Pittsburgh.
In New Orleans, students have been working with the Trinity Christian Community since 2006 to continue restoration of the city in response to Hurricane Katrina.
Students in Washington, D.C., are visiting organizations dealing with social justice issues such as human trafficking, poverty and disease. Their focus is learning how to live more justly and how to better love their local and global neighbors.
First Published March 10, 2011 5:22 am