Sandra Sherman Looks Ahead to Service on Spring Break
Date: March 11, 2002
By: Dawn Fuller
Phone: (513) 556-1823
Photos by Anne Fitzgerald
Sandra Sherman is one of the dozens of University of Cincinnati students who will participate in the Alternative Spring Break, a growing movement nationally in which students use their free time to serve others in need. The 23-year-old graduate student in mental health counseling is one of 15 volunteers with the UC Center for Community Engagement who's answering the call for assistance in Reynosa, Mexico, just over the border from McAllen, Texas.
This group will depart for Mexico on Saturday, March 16, and return Sunday, March 24. It's the second time Sherman has arranged a spring break trip to Mexico as part of her graduate assistantship at the Center for Community Engagement.
This year, the UC group will work with students from Ohio Northern University, the University of Toledo and Ohio Wesleyan University. The student teams will be constructing the second story of a church. Because they're using cement blocks, Sherman says she's told her team to prepare to do a lot of heavy lifting on this spring vacation. As the trip organizer, Sherman is also working on getting volunteers mentally prepared for what they may see.
"A lot of the students have not been out of the country, or they haven't been to Mexico. Last week, we discussed why the students decided to go on this trip, but we also spoke of the culture shock they may experience, and how the environment there is going to be completely different. The customs are different, the atmosphere is different and the food is different.
"There's a lot of poverty there and you see it. It's not hidden like it can be sometimes over here. There's trash in the streets, and last year when we went out to some of the little communities, there was no running water. This will be the first time some of our students will see anything like that."
On last year's trip, Sherman says the volunteers painted the building of a kindergarten, designed and painted murals and tarred the roof of the building. In addition to enjoying the teamwork and completion of a job well done, Sherman says the true joy of the trip was interacting with the little kindergarten children who attended the school in the morning.
"One of the UC students had a birthday while we were there, and the kids had a birthday party with a pi¤ata. They were really cute. On our last day there, they gave us a little thank you card they had written, and they had little presents for us, too."
Community service has been a longtime commitment for Sherman, all the way back to when she attended Parkway Central High School in Chesterfield, Mo. She earned her bachelor's degrees in sociology and anthropology from DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind. "On my first trip to Central America, I was a sophomore at DePauw and went to El Salvador. We went with a medical team to remote little communities and people would come from all over to meet with the doctors."
Sherman, who earned a minor in Spanish, assisted with translations on that trip and says the experience made her aware of a "different reality.
"Even when a doctor goes there for one day, it's great that they get the immediate attention that they need and have no access to otherwise, but it's also hard, because when the doctor leaves that day, they won't see one for another year. So, it's really good we were there, but it's still not enough.
"There are things that we worry about and concentrate on here that have no relevance and no meaning to many of these places. Sometimes, they're just trying to survive day to day."
Sherman will be holding reflection sessions for student volunteers after they come back home as they develop an awareness of how service can have a valuable impact on themselves as well as other people's lives.
Sherman says she chose UC's counseling program in the College of Education after considering schools such as Vanderbilt and Michigan State. She plans to graduate in June with a master's degree in mental health counseling. She says her assistantship at the Center for Community Engagement has been a perfect fit, and she wants to spread the word that with a database of over 160 agencies, the center has something for everyone interested in making a difference.
"You're able to apply what you've learned in your classroom and in the dorms to helping other people by providing your time and energy. I think the agencies really like our UC students because college students have energy. They have a lot of enthusiasm for what they do and they bring that young spirit into the agency. It's really a give and take for both the students and the community, and everyone can definitely benefit from service and from working together."
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