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ND students found service group

Carolina Wilson | Monday, April 22, 2013

The non-profit organization HANDS enables motivated students to connect with existing Central American organizations to volunteer in economically-stressed communities.

According to the program’s website, three Guatemalan Notre Dame students who sought to help and impact the local communities in their home country started the group in 2008.

Senior participant Ellison Griep said the program was eye-opening and taught her about service to others.

“I loved volunteering over spring break, working my body and my heart as much as my mind, something I lose sight of sometimes at [Notre Dame],” Griep said.

Griep chose to work with Constru Casa, an organization that builds houses in the mountains surrounding Antigua, Guatemala. The project included plastering, digging foundations, mixing cement and interacting frequently with the families who will live in the houses, Griep said.

“Learning about the families gave a face and a heart to the project,” she said. “Something I have always loved about traveling is learning about how other people live: what they want and need, how they work and what they prioritize.”

Junior Tong Zhao, a spring-break program participant in HANDS, said she believes the program aims to have a global influence.

“I believe HANDS’ mission is to enable students at [Notre Dame] and other colleges to make an impact in the international community and publicize the idea of volunteerism,” Zhao said.

Zhao spent last spring break at Esperanza Juvenile Middle School in Guatemala, teaching math and English to economically-disadvantaged students. She said the most memorable part of her volunteer experience was community immersion.

“I learned the power of kids’ dreams, who have much more limited resources than other people around me,” Zhao said. “I benefited from a unique life experience, developing pure friendships with the students and just being in Guatemala and getting closer to the lives of its people.”

Freshman Abby Shepard also spent her spring break at Esperanza Juvenile Middle School. She said the mission of the program was a perfect fit for her and piqued her interest in becoming involved.

“I love traveling, I love service and I love children,” Shepard said. “I also wanted to do something meaningful over spring break, and HANDS looked like a very worthwhile cause. I immediately knew I wanted to be involved.”

Shepard said the program’s work benefits everyone involved.

“I think that bringing people together from different cultures always benefits both sides,” Shepard said. “Both sides can learn from the other in ways that you cannot achieve from a textbook.”