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Spring service trip a chance to enjoy friends while making a difference

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – Like most other college students, those from Bethel are always looking for spring break options that allow them to have fun with friends while spending as little money as possible.

The students who went to Hopi Mission School for Bethel’s annual spring break service trip aren’t afraid to state that it filled the bill both ways – but then there were the extras.

“Honestly, spending $20 for a trip to Arizona is a chance I could hardly turn down,” said Naomi Graber, freshman from Elkhart, Ind. Allison Schrag, freshman from Newton, said, “I needed to get out of Newton, and this was the cheapest way to do it,” while Roxanne Reimer, freshman from Walton, Kan., added, “It sounded like fun to do service with a bunch of other friends.”

In addition, Graber said, “I had a friend committed to going with me. We are both committed to service and I knew that not only would I enjoy time spent with her, but that we would have the same attitude toward what we were doing.”

Graber spent 9½ months in a service assignment in Anchorage, Alaska, with the Service Adventure program, before starting college. Reimer had done short-term assignments as a high school student. And both she and Schrag were going to a place where their grandparents (Clara and Walt Reimer, Hulda and John Schrag) had served before them.

The Bethel group also spent time with someone else’s grandparents on this, the second consecutive service trip to Hopi Mission School – Doris and Jim Yoder of Newton, who have done numerous weeks-long stints at the school over the past five years, working on a number of construction projects there, and who are the grandparents of Mark Smith, a Bethel College residence hall director and one of the trip organizers.

Over those years, Jim Yoder has overseen – in addition to many smaller projects – the construction of a school gym, a duplex to house teaching staff and, currently, a building where volunteers will stay. The Bethel students, plus Smith and fellow Bethel staff member Tim Buller, worked on the volunteer center, which is nearing completion. Most did exterior painting while several tiled inside floors.

The Bethel group split up on Sunday morning to attend two Hopi Mennonite churches, the one in Kykotsmovi Village, not far from the school, and the one at Bacavi, several miles away and up on one of the mesas. They took part of a day to go to Canyon de Chelly, a site of particular sacred and cultural significance to the Navajo Nation. And heavy, road-closing snow in Kansas and the Texas and Oklahoma Panhandles forced them to stay one extra night in Albuquerque on the way home and allowed a trip up the highway to Santa Fe to hear the Bethel College Concert Choir sing on one of their spring break tour stops.

“I don’t know if [I would want to paint] another building any time soon,” Schrag said. “But I think I’d like to go on another service trip. It was also cool to see another part of the country.”

“At first, I didn’t really feel like we were making that much of a difference,” Reimer said. “But one day when I was inside tiling, a guy came in and said he thought this was a good thing and he was glad we were doing it. He was Hopi and a [mission school] board member, and it was nice to hear that he thought it was a good cause.”

“Truthfully, I found the dedication of the whole group to be refreshing and energizing,” Graber said. “We all worked together and nobody slacked. Some had more ability, and others more inclination, but everyone pitched in and worked hard.”

In addition to Graber, Reimer and Schrag, the students who spent their spring break at Hopi Mission School were Kyle Claassen, Andover, Kan.; Aaron Gingerich, Kalona, Iowa; Annette Gingerich, Parnell, Iowa; Linda Gomes, Dhaka, Bangladesh; Clint Harris, Manhattan, Kan.; Blake Johnson, Topeka, Kan.; Will Peterson, Bonner Springs, Kan.; Paul Regier, Newton; Shawn Sullivan, Hutchinson, Kan.; Claire Unruh, Clay Center, Kan.; and Rachel Voran, Newton.

Bethel College is a four-year liberal arts college affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. Founded in 1887, it is the oldest Mennonite college in North America. Bethel is known for its academic excellence and was the only Kansas private college to be ranked in Forbes.com’s listing of “America’s Best Colleges” for 2008 and one of only two Kansas colleges listed in Colleges of Distinction 2008-09. For more information, see the Bethel Web site at www.bethelks.edu.

Monica Schmidt and the Bethel Collegian contributed to this article.

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