Alternative spring break service trips inspire students

Like hundreds of Dominican students, Rebecca Morgenstern was super excited about spring break, yet she did not seek sunshine, a sandy beach, and hours of leisure time. She chose to take an alternative spring break.

Through Campus Ministry at Dominican, Morgenstern was one of 11 students who joined Campus Minister Lianni Castro to build houses and relationships in the state of Washington. DominicanRebecca Morgenstern (center) with John DeDonatis and Kevin So.jpegpartnered with Yakima Valley Habitat for Humanity for the third year in a row.

In addition, 13 Dominican students joined Sister Carla Kovack, for the 11th time, and alumni Francisco Ortiz ’06 on an alternative spring break service trip to LaBamba in Tijuana, Mexico and another 10 Dominican students participated in a service trip to Caritas Creek in Occidental as part of Dominican's Engaged Learning Opportunities.

They were committed again to spending their spring break helping others.

“I can put my time toward something that I am going to learn a lot from and have an amazing, unique experience. I will get to work with and learn from new people and do some community service, which is really important to me,” says Morgenstern, a senior nursing major in the Department of Nursing at Dominican. “It’s more rewarding. I’m serving someone and they are hopefully serving me, too, by sharing their story and knowledge. I can go to the beach any day the rest of my life, but I won’t always have the opportunity to do these incredible trips.”

Morgenstern, in fact, has done three. Prior to signing up for the Habitat for Humanity assignment in Yakima, she traveled to LaBamba and, before that, to El Salvador on an Engaged Immersion Experience. That trip, her first outside the United States, was life-impacting.

“It changed my service experience. I am more aware of the issues affecting people and their life stories instead of simply performing service,” Morgenstern said. “I feel as though that trip tied together everything I have learned, both in and out of the classroom, until that point in my life.”

The El Salvador trip confirmed Morgenstern’s goal of serving people and inspired her to register for the spring alternative break journey to LaBamba her junior year. Father Robert Haberman, director of Dominican’s Campus Ministry, has led the Tijuana trip 35 times, establishing a long-standing relationship with Casa de los Pobres.

Morgenstern and fellow Dominican students served meals in a soup kitchen at Casa de los Pobres and heard the stories of some of the people who receive meals there. They also distributed food to villagers, organized a community children’s fair, and handed out donated toothbrushes to kids while teaching them proper oral care.

“Any trip with Campus Ministry is amazing, whether it’s to a conference or aboard,” Morgenstern says.

Morgenstern, who has been accepted to Dominican Volunteers USA and plans to serve as a Registered Nurse in New York upon graduation, has been heavily involved in helping people on campus, too. She is a Resident Advisor. She was a campus advisor for the American Cancer Society’s “Relay For Life.” She participated in Service-Learning partnerships with Homeward Bound, LIFT-Levántate, and The Garden of Eatin’ preschool. And, two years ago, she was instrumental in resurrecting the annual Christmas Tree Lighting Celebration outside Angelico Hall.

“There’s a simple explanation. I’ve always loved being involved in my school and my community,” Morgenstern says. “Dominican has given so much to me and I want all the traditions in the community to continue so other people can have the same experience that I’ve had.”

Morgenstern also knows how to use a hammer and saw, which is coming in handy for the Habitat for Humanity trip. She has helped her family build their home from the ground up in Sutter Creek. She will put those talents to use in Yakima where her alternative spring break will be a breath of fresh air.

“It’s somewhere new, something new, something to learn with a new group of students from Dominican,” Morgenstern says. “I’m graduating this year. This is my last chance to do another trip with Dominican and they have all been so amazing. I’ve learned so much. I need one more trip.”