Many students at Saint Joseph’s College in Standish are eagerly anticipating next month’s spring break, a chance to escape winter’s chill and get some R&R.

But not all are taking a fun-in-the-sun approach. A few will be working, pitching in for those less fortunate. Five teams of students will dedicate their break to weeklong service projects in troubled regions of Appalachia, Vermont, New York, Philadelphia and New Orleans.

Two auctions taking place at the college today will help raise funds for the trips: a bidding auction in the cafeteria will be held at lunchtime, as well as a “silent” auction, at Mercy Hall from 10 a.m to 2 p.m. Local businesses have donated to the cause.

Bidding includes gift certificates to Mystic Tan, The Hair Studio, Scizzor Wizards, The Songo River Queen, Portland Stage Company and Portland Symphony; Sea Dogs and Red Claws tckets; and Shawnee Peak passes.

Highly coveted items are also available for students at the college, including a private parking spot and a team that will clean up their room at the end of the semester.  

In addition to auction proceeds, Workfest students have employed creative methods reaching their goals. The Vermont group has shoveled out student vehicles after the numerous snowstorms, and the New Orleans team has gone dorm-to-dorm panhandling for change. They’ll also hold a campus Mardi Gras dance just before spring break.

The college’s Mercy Center for Service Leadership and Learning, along with the Campus Ministry, pays for a large part of these trips in order to keep students’ personal costs down. The college’s financial support doesn’t cover all costs, so fundraising is important. Each student group needs to raise an average of $500 to offset the trip budget.

This marks the 20th year that the college will conduct the Workfest program, giving students the opportunity to experience different aspects of service and gain broader perspectives from the various communities. Some build houses with local Habitat for Humanity chapters, while others will spend time with organizations helping at-risk youth.

The college says Workfest is designed to encourage an attitude of lifelong service, expose students to models of communities working together to solve their problems, and inspire students to get involved in their home communities. The auction raises more than one-third of the money needed to provide these valuable experiences.

“Workfest trips are beneficial for students, many of whom are from sheltered rural or middle-class households here in New England,” said Mike Blais, service learning coordinator. “It’s an opportunity to see another part of the U.S. and to work with and get to know the people there.”

Sarah Gordon, a senior pursuing a double major in sociology and psychology with a concentration in social work, agrees. She’s gone on Workfest before.

“Being a college student, it’s easy for me to stay in my little bubble,” she said. “Mission trips such as Workfest put everything back into perspective. It makes you realize what you have and not take it for granted. Every so often I need to be a little bit more humble and trips like these help me with that.”

Gordon is the president of the college Habitat for Humanity Club. This year she’ll be leading seven students, helping out in the long-standing effort to rebuild New Orleans. Operation Nehemiah is “working to rebuild the walls of people’s lives.”

In 2009 Gordon went with a team for a Habitat project in New York with fellow student Courtney Hoffses, a junior from Aroostook County majoring in political science. This year Hoffses is an assistant leader heading to Vermont where she’ll be working with a committed team in Brattleboro at an organization called Youth Services.

When Hoffses was a freshman, Blais told her about several service opportunities. Hoffses says the trips aren’t all work; there are plenty of good times.

“I thought it sounded like fun, so I applied and went to New York,” she said.  I didn’t know anyone in my group before I went, but I ended up loving it. The people I met were great. I’m still friends with most of them.”

During that trip, a 12-passenger van was packed with 11 girls and all of their gear.

“The whole way to New York, Sarah and a few other girls were in the back seat with pillows, sleeping bags, supplies and who knows what else literally wedged everywhere around them,” she recalls. “You could only see them from their shoulders up! But Sarah just laughed the whole time.”


Don Perkins is a freelance writer who lives in Raymond. He can be reached at: [email protected]