By Alaina Graupman
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Over spring break, Campus Ministry sent three groups of Bennies and Johnnies on Alternative Break Experiences (ABE) to San Francisco, Kansas City and New Orleans.

The groups, ranging from 7-10 people, were led by a Bennie and Johnnie duo alongside a faculty advisor.

The New Orleans group, lead by CSB senior, Ashley Kraemer, and SJU sophomore, Joseph Penny, worked at United Saints Recovery Project, a grassroots relief center aiming to repair, rebuild and restore homes and communities still devastated from Hurricane Katrina 15 years later.

The Bennies and Johnnies spent their days painting homes, doing construction and planting trees around New Orleans. This physical labor only served part of the mission the trip set out to complete—that by helping others, you will be helped in return.

“Obviously we are doing hands–on work, but it’s not always about making a difference in their community because realistically what is only one week of service going to do?” Kraemer said. “It’s more about learning about the injustices that the community faces, [and] bringing that back to campus and educating others.”

Kraemer encouraged others to commit themselves to service, even if it is only one week.

“It opens your eyes to problems on campus you wouldn’t think of otherwise,” Kraemer said.

CSB sophomore, Korina Pekarek, and SJU junior, Michael Sulaiman, shared that their experiences in San Francisco at Faithful Fools, a service organization seeking to understand and support the homeless, led them to a similar mindset as Kraemer.

This awareness was greatly impacted through the “street retreats” organized by Faithful Fools that bookended the trip. Students were sent into the streets to learn through observation and conversation with the homeless population in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco, a part of the city that is heavily populated by the homeless community.

“The biggest thing I learned from the street retreats is how commonly homelessness is dehumanized and how they are seen as one group of people who all need and want one thing,” Pekarek said. “They are as human as anyone else is and should be treated that way. When participating in service, activism or legislation it should be remembered that they are individuals.”

Through self–reflection the group grappled with their feelings of sadness, confusion and hopelessness, alongside a calling to affect change.

“Many people in the group struggled with recognizing how their role in activism, especially when there is so much to be done, fit into their current status of a student or how they can continue to incorporate that in the future,” Sulaiman said.

These questions sparked students to search for opportunities to incorporate the knowledge and values learned over break into their everyday lives.

Martha Koenig, CSB senior, encourages everyone to look into going on an ABE if they want a transformative experience. Koenig co-led the Kansas City trip to Operation Breakthrough, Missouri’s largest daycare, alongside Quinlen Marshall, SJU senior.

Operation Breakthrough serves the neediest members of Kansas City with advocacy, childcare and donations. Many of the children at the center have experienced trauma, homelessness or violence.

The Bennies and Johnnies spent their mornings in the classroom with the children and in the afternoon ventured into the city to help with projects like organizing spaces, sorting donations and social service support.

Koenig emphasizes that this work is rooted in building community-whether that be with the fellow Bennies and Johnnies, or the larger community you are serving and learning from. ABE hopes that these lessons will translate into attendees’ personal, academic and professional lives.

“ABE looks a lot different this year than previous years. We have narrowed our lenses to more domestic trips and trips that we have longstanding partnerships with. Our intention is not to be a Christian presence, even though it is done through campus ministry, or that we are trying to help someone more than we are trained to do,” Koenig said.

Even though these trips were short, they made long–term impacts on the participants.

“This trip changed my being as a whole. It changed my view of humanity, view of social justice issues and how all challenges in life should be approached,” Pekarek said.