|Breanna and Todd Praechter|
“I knew that I was always going to grad school, so I just had it in my mind that I didn’t have time for any long-term relationship,” says Breanna Praechter. “It just kind of happened.”
It started happening three years ago, when UC students Todd Praechter, a fifth-year mechanical engineering major from Springfield Township, and Breanna Justus, now a first-year masters student in architecture (earning her bachelor’s degree last June) from Newark, first met on a service-filled trip to Louisiana in 2009 with the UC student organization, Serve Beyond Cincinnati.
As the couple worked together on that trip and on additional trips with the UC student-founded service organization, the Praechters say their feelings and common values evolved into a lifetime commitment to each other. They got married last September and took a brief honeymoon to Europe before starting fall quarter at UC.
Serve Beyond Cincinnati is an organization created in 2007 by University of Cincinnati students dedicated to building a civic-minded generation by providing national and international service experiences for UC students. The work is demanding, and each student commits to paying for his or her own travel, food and lodging expenses. Yet, the student members of Serve Beyond Cincinnati say they get back a lot more than the sweat that they pour into these trips.
“The trips can involve a lot of money and a lot of labor, but everyone is so positive,” Todd says. “These trips are just awesome, because we get to serve and provide joy to complete strangers. It really does leave a lasting impression on your life.
“I joined SBC because I enjoy doing service and I love to travel. It’s just a part of how I was raised and there really is no better way to do this than to join SBC.”
As a matter of fact, both Todd and Breanna hold a longtime commitment to service. Todd says that as a member of a youth group with First Baptist Church in Mount Healthy, he took a number of mission trips around the United States. Breanna was involved in service-related activities through her involvement with the 4-H youth development organization in Newark.
Both of the Praechters have participated in three Serve Beyond Cincinnati trips, with their first the trip to Louisiana where they met in 2009.
During their winter break in 2011, the couple was briefly separated before the holidays as Breanna led a Serve Beyond Cincinnati trip to Haiti and Todd led a Serve Beyond Cincinnati trip to Nicaragua.
Breanna says her team in Haiti tore down a crumbling house and then laid the foundation for a new house. Todd’s team in Nicaragua also tore down a house “that was basically made of sticks, cardboard and plastic. We put in place a wood-framed house and added tin siding. It was a professionally constructed house.”
“I was working in Columbus and had driven down here for the weekend,” says Breanna. “We had made plans to hide this little can as part of a geocaching game – it’s like a little treasure hunt that involves using a GPS that can be played with other people.
“We took a trail that we walked regularly, and then we went across this little bridge where he asked me if I wanted to look inside the can and see what we were going to hide,” says Breanna. “When I opened up the can, there were all these little origami hearts with Bible verses on them, and then he got down on one knee…”
They add that Serve Beyond Cincinnati has influenced their future careers as well as their lifetime union. Breanna is hoping to find opportunities to apply her skills toward an area she calls humanitarian architecture – applying sustainable ideas to projects in developing countries where residents have no access to electricity or running water. Todd is exploring opportunities with Cincinnati service organizations for young professionals.
Through his cooperative education experience, Todd has lined up a job with StandardAero in Sharonville after June graduation. Breanna still has two more years at UC before she earns her master’s degree.
Meanwhile, as Serve Beyond Cincinnati members plan ahead for spring break, Todd and Breanna will instead be taking a more leisurely spring break to Savannah, Ga.
“There’s a couple that met on my Serve Beyond Cincinnati trip to El Salvador that is currently engaged. They’re getting married this summer,” Breanna says.
“This really is an organization that leads you to lifelong friends,” says Breanna. “Plus, sometimes I tell my friends, it seems to also have nice surprises for someone who might actually be looking for a date!”