The Lycoming College chapter of Advancing Communities by Educating and Serving - recently took its first alternative spring break trip to the Dominican Republic. LACES is an affiliate of ACES North America, a nonprofit organization that helps people in the Dominican Republic have access to educational opportunities and routine healthcare.
LACES is a liaison between ACES and the college to provide community service opportunities and conduct fundraisers to aid students in trips to the Dominican Republic to further serve the global community.
Four Lycoming students - Miranda Gavrila, a freshman biology major from Montclair, N.J.; Olivia Hanner, a junior biology major from Montoursville; Laura Miller, a junior criminal justice and Spanish major from East Stroudsburg; and Jessica Rae, a senior psychology major from New Freedom - along with Brittany Tasch, student life coordinator and adviser, spent a week volunteering in the Dominican Republic.
"There are no words in any language that can express what I felt during our volunteer work in the Dominican Republic," Gavrila said about her experiences. "Much of our manual labor involved distributing donations amongst various communities, building a garden for a school and gathering sand for a green-house construction project, all of which were physically challenging but satisfying."
Gavrila said the most spiritually rewarding experiences came from being present in village meetings to discuss solutions to their lack of resources, or playing with the children of the Cabon School.
"Some of us were able to communicate in Spanish to the kids, but we all connected through laughter," Gavrila said. "Our Dominican friends taught us the phrase 'te amo de gratis,' which, in English, literally translates to: 'I love you unconditionally.' The other members of LACES, who have become my sisters after taking this journey together, use this expression of love amongst each other constantly, wishing we were back in the Dominican with the community that we worked for, our new family."
"Over the last two weeks, I have tried numerous times to put into words just how amazing this trip was," Miller said. "I have come to the conclusion that it is quite impossible to do. The LACES service trip was an exceptional experience that no words could even begin to describe without losing the essence of the trip. My life has changed immensely, just by meeting the people of the Dominican Republic and being able to become friends with them. I feel honored and blessed to have had this experience. Seeing the smiles on their faces and hearing all of the laughter and thankfulness in their words is something that I would never trade for the world."
From May 6 to 20, 16 Lycoming students and four Lycoming staff members will spend two weeks in the Dominican Republic to help with medical and food outreaches to struggling communities.
They will volunteer in local schools, establish an orchard to help support a women's co-op, and assist a remote coffee farm with establishing a direct, fair trade relationship with Williamsport-based coffee shops.
The trip will be part of the College's May term class in which students receive class credit for the hands-on experience. According to Dr. Caroline Payne, assistant professor of political science, the College also is working with ACES to have students intern in the Dominican Republic. "Clearly, this is an organization that offers the Lycoming community a lot of great opportunities," Payne said.
Gavrila agreed. "I'm so fortunate to have been blessed with the opportunity to discover more about myself through service work," she said. "I hope that others are inspired to take this trip as well because it's an opportunity to see the power that we each possess to change one person, one community, one country."
"The most amazing thing for me as the adviser of the trip and of the LACES student organization is not only that the work is benefitting a community and country in need, but the chance to see students grow through the service of helping others," Tasch said. "The week spent in the Dominican was filled with laughter and joy, but also with sorrow, tears and self-discovery. Students were able to see life outside of what they are used to and interact with people who are vastly different than them and who have very real struggles and hurts. The four students that I took to the Dominican came back changed, inspired and with an entirely new world view."