Work, culture combine to enrich college students


JOHN’S ISLAND — Twenty-one students from the College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minn., as well as collegians from Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Ill., spent the week of March 16 to 20 at the Our Lady of Mercy Outreach Center working on projects for the Neighborly Assistance In Living Safely program, more commonly known as N.A.I.L.S.

In addition to home repair and painting, such as the sprucing up of the Senior Citizen Center on Wadmalaw Island, the group also participated in activities to explore the African-American culture of the Lowcountry. Students took part in a program on African drumming and dancing, toured the Avery Institute at the College of Charleston, and listened to a presentation on “Gullah Enterprises.”

Jakki Jefferson, a staff member at the Outreach Center, led the demonstration of African drumming and dancing for the Midwesterners. Jefferson began by reading a passage from Scripture in English and then translating it into Gullah. She then explained the symbolism of the various movements in the dance she presented. It illustrated the harvesting and planting of a rice crops; with motions representing tilling of the soil, planting, covering of the seeds, praying for rain, waiting for harvest, rejoicing and then celebrating after a bounteous harvest.

Instrumentals for the dance was provided by three drums, tambourines and sticks; with the music originating from Sierra Leone.

After a quick run-though of the steps and the rhythm, Jefferson then led two groups of dancers through the complete routine.

Along with the presentations, tours and service projects, another important aspect of the visit from the three campus ministry groups included tutoring of youngsters at the center each day from 3 to 4:30 p.m. This following stints at the various work sites from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

Kris Egan, a student from the College of St. Benedict, called her spring break experience “awesome,” saying “it’s great to help people that really need it.” Dana Moran, another student from the school, said she was looking forward to “take back to our campus” the experiences of Gullah culture. Added Egan, “We were enriched by coming down here.”

Al Joyner, an advisor to the Newman Club at Eastern Illinois University and a professor in the College of Business there, said this trip marked his sixth alternative spring break program with Catholic students from that school. Other groups have gone to Atlanta, New York, West Virginia and Oklahoma.

“It’s been a very good experience,” said Toni Kozlowicz, an Eastern Illinois student. “I enjoy doing volunteer work.”

Said fellow collegian Amanda Ifland: “The students experienced something … they were transformed. We are different because of the culture we have experienced.”

According to Sister Carol Wentworth, who supervises the N.A.I.L.S. program, this was the third of eight college groups scheduled to spend their spring break doing outreach on John’s Island.