Marian students serve in Puerto Rico on alternative spring break

Several Marian University students are working at Camp Caribe in Puerto Rico during their spring break. (Submitted photo)

INDIANAPOLIS (WTHR) – March brings spring break and a trip to the beach for many college students. Marian University challenges students to consider an alternative.

A group of students are serving in Puerto Rico this week, almost six months since Category 4 Hurricane Maria blasted the island. The storm killed at least 60 people and left behind widespread destruction. Sixteen percent of the island, some 200,000 families and businesses, are still without power.

Some Marian students are giving their spring break to work at Camp Caribe on the southern coast of Puerto Rico. The church camp is on the beach in Juana Diaz, but this trip is not just fun in the sun.

Camp Caribe is located on the southern coast of Puerto Rico.
Camp Caribe is located on the southern coast of Puerto Rico.

"I'm giving up a spring break, but I'm also getting a better spring break at the same time," said senior theology major Billy Cross, who is from Southport and is one of two student leaders of the group of 13, including advisors.

Senior Kaylee Bluethmann from Greenfield has taken an alternative break trip all four of her years at Marian. Bluethmann, a nursing major, served in Puerto Rico last year before Hurricane Maria struck September 20.

"I was supposed to go on a medical mission trip and that got canceled the week after the hurricane," said Bluethmann. "Once I found that out, I kind of just knew that Puerto Rico was where I was supposed to be."

Last year at Camp Caribe, students built a wall, painted and demolished a home. They also worked with students in an after-school program. They know the camp has running water and electricity using a generator but are not sure what work will be most needed this spring break.

The group left Saturday and flew into San Juan, before taking a two-hour bus trip almost straight south from the north coast to the south coast of Puerto Rico. The group returns to Indianapolis this Saturday.

Marian associate director of campus ministry Jeanne Grammens Hidalgo encourages all Marian students go on an alternative break trip.

"We really believe in service and the spiritual awakening that can happen by walking with others," said Grammens Hidalgo.

Last year, junior Maggie Verhiley from South Bend worked at an orphanage in Guatemala.

"They really just showed me how to live my life and how to live it simply and how to live it day by day," said Verhiley, a junior nursing major.

She expects another life-changing experience in Puerto Rico.

"We're going into a place where many people are hurting. Their life does not look like ours here, so I am looking forward to hearing their stories."

"Solidarity: Their story is our story" is the theme of Marian University's 2018 alternative break.

"Love your neighbor as yourself," said Cross, who served last spring break on a Navajo reservation in New Mexico. "When we go, it's understanding not only how we do service, doing service together in the autonomy of the group, but also understanding how do we bring it back and reflecting on it."

"They come back with an idea of how very blessed they are for all the blessings they have," said Marian's Sister Norma Rocklage. "Secondly, they have a deeper idea of the cultures of other people and what other people can offer them. And I think almost in everyone who's ever gone there's a passion that they want to continue to make the world better."

In all, 40 Marian students are serving on alternative break trips in Puerto Rico, Appalachia, New Mexico and Guatemala. The trips can cost about $1,000. Marian has some grants available to help offset the costs. But the students also raise much of their own support.

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