Alternative Break Service Trips (ABSTs) are offered by the Center for Social Concerns and allow students to help domestic or international communities. Sophomore social work major Leah Johnson is a co-leader for one such trip and gave some insight about the ABST program.

Q: Tell us about the trip you’re going on. 

A: I am co-leading the trip to Merida, Mexico with Kevin Holland […] The thing that’s cool about Merida is that it’s a sister city with Erie, so our diocese has been connected for quite a long time. There are students going down there all the time.

Q: So what exactly are you going to be doing down there? 

A: We are there to do a lot of service as well as some manual labor. So, we get to work with some of the girls in the after school program. They call it “Nueva Vida,” which is something I’m really excited for. We also get to work a little bit in a nursing home […] We’ll actually bring down some clothing and we’ll have a clothing sale for residents in nearby towns.

Q: What part of the trip are you the most excited for? 

A: Definitely working with the girls. Or the older people. I really love both ends of the age spectrum.

Q: What kind of preparation did the whole trip process entail? 

A: Being a trip leader, I am in contact with the woman at the mission who is hosting us. Her name is Trisha. Her, and Kevin and I have been emailing and skyping to set up our flight dates and times and working out the itinerary. On the [Erie] side of the project, Kevin and I have been putting together materials for our group to sort of get them a little more info about where they’re going and what they’ll be doing. We’ve been trying to practice Spanish as a group. We encourage students to practice on their own, it’s pretty difficult.

Q: How can students get involved if they want to go on a trip next year? 

A: Every fall, we open applications on EngageU, you can fill it out. Don’t let money be a reason you don’t do an ABST, because we do fundraising and have scholarships available. If this is something you want to do, we want to make sure you can do it. It’s really easy. You just apply and we will place you on a trip with a group that you will hopefully get along with!

Q: How much do the trips cost? 

A: Domestic trips are around $250. International trips run at about $1200.

Q: Are the trips open to all students? 

A: Yes. You do not have to be Christian, you don’t need any experience, you don’t even necessarily need to be fluent in the language. That’s all stuff we can work on.

Q: Why do you think it’s important to travel when you’re young and in college? 

A: Why not? Gannon provides you with so many opportunities to go places and experience things. Broaden your horizons! It’s incredible, and I would not have this opportunity anywhere else. You meet people and learn things and experience cultures.

Q: Why should students care about service and helping others? 

A: Honestly, you don’t [need to go on an ABST trip]. There are so many people here in Erie that need help. It’s wonderful to go on ABST and I think everyone should do that, but I think the underlying theme of ABST–service—is what we really need to focus on. Gannon really drills that into your head.

Johnson will be co-leading a group of four students on their ABST trip to Merida, Mexico. Students on the trip leave Saturday, February 28 and will return in a week. In addition to Mexico, other ABST groups will be traveling to L’Arche Toronto, L’Arche Mexico, Guatemala, Haiti and Detroit, Michigan. To keep up with Leah and the other students embarking on their journey, check out