For more than two decades, St. Thomas students have spent their J-Terms and spring breaks giving back to communities in need through the student-led organization, VISION. This year was no different.
Students who attended VISION trips this J-Term had the opportunity to immerse themselves in cultures across the world, such as South Africa, Guatemala, Mexico, Laos, Venezuela, Uganda and California.
Rather than spending their J-Term lounging or taking a class on campus, these students dealt with issues of intense poverty and social justice. Some painted schools, and others repaired food shelves. All were shown a new perspective, far from the normality of the “real world” at college.
Jacob Cunningham, VISION director and a St. Thomas alumnus, has directed the program for eight years. During his sophomore year in college, Cunningham got involved with VISION and has been devoted to service work ever since. He said VISION gives students a unique chance to find something in themselves by helping others.
“It’s really just stepping away from your life,” he said. “It’s having the chance to reflect on your life’s meaning and where you find hope and where you find joy.”
When students are entrenched in their fast-paced college lifestyle, Cunningham said VISION gives them an opportunity to step back and think about how they can give back to those in need.
“I think it is really easy to go to a four-year college like St. Thomas and have it be very insular unless you really branch out and seek out opportunities,” he said. “These trips give a venue for students to say, ‘OK, what do I have to give here?’ You see gifts just emerge out of students when they are asked to give.”
Through the years, Cunningham has received many grateful letters and e-mails from the communities VISION works with, but one of the most rewarding things for him is watching the friendships made students make when put in a new situation.
“I really edify by the relationships that come out of this,” he said. “You see students connect with other students in the context of something really substantial.
“The relationships, I would say there is a depth to them that only comes when you are doing a common project together. You can see in students how grateful they are for each other.”
This spring break VISION has planned service trips to Colorado, Virgin Islands, Montana, Kentucky, New York and Illinois. The program is open to all undergraduates. Students are selected through an application and interview process.
Matt Linden can be reached at email@example.com.