By Eric Bennardo
UPPER BURRELL, Pa—Several Penn State New Kensington students spent their spring break performing community service and outreach in Puerto Rico during spring break 2015.
As part of the campus’s service learning efforts, students were granted the opportunity to attend an alternative spring break trip. This trip, where the students spent a week in different cities and towns throughout Puerto Rico, was just one of many initiatives by the campus to allow students to donate their time to benefit communities. While in Puerto Rico, students performed various acts of service, such as assisting in building homes, planting trees, and giving English language lessons to native children.
Kelcey Harris, a sophomore studying Agriculture and Extended Education, had several reasons why she went on the trip. “I chose to go to Puerto Rico to gain experience for my major,” said Harris. “My major involves a lot of travelling.”
Harris also had many notable experiences during the trip, the most relevant to her major being the preservation of mangroves, a type of tree that grows in the region. “During the first full day of the trip, we were given a presentation on the mangroves, and learned that they are an endangered species of tree,” Harris explained. Harris also said that working with the mangroves allowed her to see just how devastating a lot of the demolition taking place in Puerto Rico is to the environment. “I felt obligated to replenish the quantity of the different kinds of mangroves,” she said.
Christian Kaminec, a junior studying Information Science and Technology, also had some very positive experiences on the trip. “I wanted to work in an environment where I could do something different and where a change could be seen,” said Kaminec. “I wanted to do something good for the world, which is satisfying, and I also like to travel and be submerged in other cultures,” he added.
Kaminec also talked about his experience working in the Vietnam Community, an area in Puerto Rico where many Vietnam War veterans settled after the war’s end. “The area was so poor, so oppressed by the municipal government,” said Kaminec.
“However, despite their unfortunate circumstances, the inhabitants of the region still showed us incredible hospitality and gratitude for us helping them so much,” he added. Kaminec said that a majority of the work he had to do in the community was gardening, which due to the incredibly thick shrubbery required the use of a machete. Kaminec also mentioned that he enjoyed speaking to the natives about their culture and personal experiences.
“Seeing some of the natives we were working with talk about their own experiences, showing us where they grew up and liked to dine was a very powerful and enriching experience,” he said.
Sandra Muhhuku, a sophomore studying Petroleum Engineering, had her own reasons for going on the trip. During last year’s spring break, Muhhuku traveled to Washington D.C. to help feed the homeless as part of that year’s service learning trip. “I had an amazing time in DC last year, and I thought going to Puerto Rico would be an even better experience and I’ve always wanted to go to the Caribbean,” said Muhhuku.
Muhhuku thought that working with the communities in Puerto Rico was the most memorable experience of the trip. “Seeing how passionate they were about their communities and the environment was great,” she said. Muhhuku also said that getting to experience the Puerto Rican culture, food, and music was an experience she will never forget. “Going Salsa dancing was definitely a highlight for me,” she added.
Penn State New Kensington is dedicated to the improvement of both local communities and communities throughout the United States and around the world, and they plan to continue similar projects in the years to come.