19 BVU Students Go ‘AWOL’ in Service During Spring Break

Students, faculty, and staff are performing a week of service on Catalina Island, focusing on Environmentalism. Others are serving in various capacities for Outlook 360 in the Dominican Republic, focusing on English Education.

Nineteen BVU students, four faculty and staff members departed on Thursday for the University’s 21st annual AWOL (Alternative Week of Offsite Learning), a week of service during spring break.

The 2019 events see 12 BVU representatives doing a week of service on Catalina Island, focusing on Environmentalism, while 11 serve in various capacities for Outlook 360 in the Dominican Republic, focusing on English Education.

“I’m going to the Dominican Republic to help teach English,” says Kassidy Chandler, a senior exercise science major from Casey. “Where we’re going it’s a tourism-based economy and the people we’ll meet need English skills as they work in tourism, either in hosting or selling. We’ll also likely do some other community service projects.”

The trip marks the fourth AWOL adventure for Chandler. During her past three spring break observances, she’s served individuals facing homelessness in Washington, D.C.; dug holes for coffee trees in Nicaragua; and participated in a food-sustainability effort in Waco, Texas.

“I’m pursuing a career in occupational therapy, working to help people in their daily lives,” Chandler says. “The AWOL experiences are helping prepare me to deal with people from all walks of life. I want to be able to communicate effectively to help all kinds of people I’ll serve, and these trips are helping me accomplish that.”

Chandler, like all AWOL student participants, completed a 6-month leadership development program associated with the program. Upon their return, students make a difference in their communities, or on campus, by applying knowledge they gain in AWOL service endeavors.

Plus, Chandler says the AWOL experiences have allowed her to see different parts of the world each spring at a very modest out-of-pocket expense. “I think I’ve spent $1,000 total and have gone on four AWOL trips,” she says, noting the average per trip comes to $250.

Ken Meissner, BVU chaplain, completed his first AWOL trip 19 years ago, accompanying a group of students to Alamosa, Colorado, to work at “Operation Christmas Child.” Meissner notes that these travel experiences are underwritten in large part through gifts from the Henry and Lucile Eggink Endowment, as well as  fundraisers organized by AWOL participants and those involved in BVU Student MOVE, which stands for Mobilizing Outreach and Volunteer Efforts.

The first BVU AWOL group aided a Habitat for Humanity service project in Jamaica in 1998.

“As much as I love Iowa and staying in Iowa, these trips have given me the opportunity to travel,” Chandler says. “I’ve been to places I wouldn’t have otherwise seen. Plus, I’m helping people and I’m learning.”

Brittany Tillman, a junior biology major from Durand, Mich., will spend spring break working as an AWOL volunteer at the Catalina Conservancy on Catalina Island, where students will dig into animal advocacy and environmental efforts. 

“I went on AWOL to North Carolina as a freshman and worked in rehab efforts for wildlife,” she says. “It made a huge difference for me.”

A career-changing difference, in fact.

“Coming into BVU as a freshman, I thought of working with people in my profession,” she says. “But that first AWOL trip re-geared me into working on the animal side of life.”