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WATCH: UC Students Serve Around the World as Part of Their Holiday Break

Students with UC’s Serve Beyond Cincinnati spent their break working to make the world a better place.

Date: 1/10/2012 12:00:00 AM
By: Dawn Fuller
Phone: (513) 556-1823
Photos By: Serve Beyond Cincinnati

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“Giving up one week out of a three-week break to help others is such a wonderful opportunity for me, because I have been so blessed in my life up to this point.” – Phil Riazi, member of the University of Cincinnati student organization, Serve Beyond Cincinnati

As frigid temperatures in Cincinnati kicked off winter quarter, students who participated in Serve Beyond Cincinnati’s projects over December break were readjusting after spending part of their winter break in considerably warmer locations. But the warmer destinations did not involve luxurious accommodations.

Students with UC’s Serve Beyond Cincinnati traveled to Guatemala, Haiti, Nicaragua and El Salvador to provide service around the world. Other trips in the U.S. involved volunteering with the Fuller Center for Housing in Americus, Ga., and Webster Parish, La., outside of Shreveport.

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. Nearly 70 students took part in Serve Beyond Cincinnati projects over the break.

Here’s a wrap-up of their accomplishments:

Antigua, Guatemala

Twelve UC students worked in partnership with the Fuller Center for Housing – a nonprofit, ecumenical Christian housing ministry dedicated to eliminating poverty and providing housing worldwide – and its partner, Homes from the Heart, which is dedicated to eliminating world poverty.

“Over the past three years as an undergraduate student at UC, I have had the privilege of working with the Fuller Center and Serve Beyond Cincinnati in order to fulfill service work both nationally and internationally. Through this work, I have gained valuable knowledge about our world’s poverty and the need for a helping hand,” says trip co-leader Kaitlin Dauner, a fourth-year communication and urban studies major from Indian Hill.

“By working in a collaborative group with other UC students, I have made a small difference in a family’s life. After these trips, I felt a sense of fulfillment in my own life. I found a means by which I could help make a difference.

“Upon graduation from UC this spring, I will attribute a significant part of my amazing college experience to these service trips. Some of my fondest and most rewarding memories are created on these alternative spring and winter break trips,” says Dauner.

Each student raised $1,500 to cover expenses.

Port-au-Prince, Haiti


Eleven UC students worked with the Fuller Center for Housing to paint rooms in an orphanage, demolish a house made of sticks and mud and begin construction on a foundation for a new home. Each student raised approximately $1,500 for the trip, which was led by Breanna Praechter, a 22-year-old first-year graduate student in architecture. Praechter previously participated in Serve Beyond Cincinnati trips to Louisiana and El Salvador.

“Being in Haiti was unlike anything I had seen before,” says Praechter, who graduated from UC with her bachelor’s degree in architecture last June. “I think many students on the trip felt like we could never do enough to make an impact. Even though we felt our work was so tiny compared to what Haiti needs, the family we assisted will be forever impacted by our service.”

Among the Haiti images featured in the video is a photo of the UC students leaving their painted handprints on a wall at the orphanage.

Matagalpa, Nicaragua

Nine UC students representing Serve Beyond Cincinnati worked with the Fuller Center for Housing to assist a large family. The students added a large room to a home that could serve as a bedroom for four members of a family in San Ramon. Cost of the trip per student was $1,453.

“It was great to see a group of people unite and become determined to help the life of a family in need,” says student trip leader Todd Praechter, a 22-year-old fifth year mechanical engineering student from Springfield Township.

“These trips are just awesome because we get to serve and provide joy to complete strangers. We create amazing relationships with our teammates and the people we are working for and it really does leave a lasting impression on your life. I joined SBC because I enjoy doing service projects and love to travel, it's just a part of how I was raised and there really is no better way to do it than to join SBC,” says Praechter.

San Salvador, El Salvador

Fourteen UC students representing Serve Beyond Cincinnati worked in the village of San Luis Talpa, in partnership with Homes from the Heart. The students were digging holes six feet deep and five feet wide to prepare for the installation of septic tanks for four new homes. The volunteers also cleared a field and started work on digging the foundation for two new homes.

El Salvador

"My two SBC trips have been extremely rewarding and valuable experiences,” says   Michael Ponti-Zins, a 22-year-old fourth-year industrial management major from Clifton.
“These trips have given me an incredible sense of meaning and accomplishment. 

“At the end of the week, I truly feel like I have made a difference in a complete stranger's life. I have learned just how blessed I am to never have to worry about having clean water, enough food or a roof over my head. The least I can do is give up a portion of my winter break to help,” says Ponti-Zins.
“My trips have given me a whole new perspective on poverty. These people work harder everyday than anyone I have ever met. This was the first service trip for most of the group, and was an extremely rewarding and eye-opening experience."

Cost of the trip per student was $1,475. Fundraising activities included working security at Bengals games and having different fundraising events on campus.

Americus, Ga.

Eleven students worked in partnership with the Fuller Center for Housing to work on a dilapidated home that had been vacant for a year, due to a flood from a broken pipe. The students scrubbed, painted and replaced windows, and stripped paneling and flooring through the day, and were housed at the Americus First United Methodist Church in the evenings.

It was the first SBC service-related trip in the U.S. for student trip leader Megan McDonald, a UC junior from Delhi, Ohio, who is majoring in communication sciences and disorders. Previously, she traveled with SBC to Haiti and El Salvador.

“I thought the SBC trip to Georgia was a very humbling experience,” says the Seton High School graduate. “I completely underestimated how much I would learn and take away from what I thought would be a simple trip down South. The late nights at the work site and the team work throughout the week proved that these students wanted to make a huge difference.

“Along with being situated in the midst of so much history and being able to see the place where so much good originates at the Fuller Center Headquarters, this trip is one of the most memorable I've been on,” says McDonald. “It's extraordinary how homes like Ms. Walker's can be in such a poor condition in the United States. It's simply something we don't see everyday. But it felt good knowing that I was giving back to my country – it was a perfect way for me to continue to pay it forward, which is what I strive to do in an organization like SBC.” 

The cost of the trip per student was $300.

Webster Parish, La. (Outside of Shreveport)

Ten students worked with the Fuller Center for Housing to work on the construction of a new home. The cost of the trip per student was $300.

“The work we did in Webster Parish was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life,” says trip co-leader Phil Riazzi, a 20-year-old architecture major from Kettering, Ohio. “Giving up one week out of a three-week break to help others is such a wonderful opportunity for me, because I have been so blessed in my life up to this point. Watching tears of happiness come to the new homeowner's eyes after seeing all our work made every hour worth it.”

Riazzi has previously volunteered with Serve Beyond Cincinnati and the Fuller Center on trips to Louisville and Kansas City. “I joined Serve Beyond Cincinnati because I'm very interested in housing needs and what I can do to help. As an architecture major, it puts things in perspective when I go on these trips. Architects design for people with money – it’s a luxury. I want to find sustainable solutions for people who don't even have the necessary living arrangements that we all take for granted. The thought is to one day become a skilled volunteer,” Riazzi says.

“I realize that my abilities in construction are limited and that's why I would like to one day dedicate my education and experience in the field of architecture to serve others.”

Serve Beyond Cincinnati Website

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