• Tucson is one of the sites where students will volunteer on Destination: Service trips this year. Shown here are students ...
    Tucson is one of the sites where students will volunteer on Destination: Service trips this year. Shown here are students on the Tucson trip in 2012.

Sometimes you need to get out of your community to see what your community really needs.

That’s what happened last year to junior theatre major Abby Birkett when she went on a Destination: Service trip to Tucson, Ariz. On that trip, students from Southwestern worked in a community garden run by the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona and helped Habitat for Humanity build houses for local residents.

“The trip made us realize there is a lot to be done in Georgetown,” Birkett said.

Exposing students to needs at the local, national and even international level is one of the goals of Southwestern’s Destination: Service program, which is now in its 17th year.

This year students will have the opportunity to participate in three very different trips. Birkett and Sarah Brackman, director of civic engagement, will be leading another trip to Tucson. This year the Tucson group will work at a different community garden and pick citrus fruit with refugees who have been resettled in Tucson by the United Nations Refugee Agency. They also will work at a Catholic food mission and go out into the Sonoran Desert with a group that provides water, food and first aid to migrants found suffering from heat, dehydration and injuries.

“The people we met in Tucson last year were incredible human beings,” Birkett said. “It was really inspiring to meet them.”

A group from Southwestern also will be going to the New Orleans area, which has been the site of several previous Destination: Service trips. Participants on this trip will volunteer with the Epworth Project in Slidell, La., which has been helping local residents whose houses were destroyed by Hurricanes Katrina and Isaac. The student leader on the New Orleans trip is Lauren Gieseke, a junior who has been volunteering in New Orleans on her own in the summer through the Episcopal Church.

For students who like outdoor adventure, former Registrar David Stones will be leading a group to the Gila Wilderness. The group will help employees from the U.S. Forest Service maintain some of the hiking trails in the wilderness and near the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument.

David Boutte is the student leader on the Gila trip. This will be his second year to do the trip.

“Spring Break in the Gila really shattered the monotony and relieved the stress that builds up over the semester,” Boutte said. “I doubt I’ll get many chances in my life to work with forest rangers. The fact that I was doing essential good for the trails, and it only cost $100 for all my food and travel for a week didn’t hurt, either. I’m looking forward to going this year because I know that I’ll meet new people and we’ll have a truly unique experience that I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”

In addition to opening students’ eyes to community needs, University Chaplain Beverly Jones said the Destination: Service program also provides a great opportunity for networking. “Many students have gotten jobs or internships at sites where they have worked during Destination: Service,” she said.

Students will be going on the trips the week of March 9-16. For more information on the trips, or to register for a trip, visit http://www.southwestern.edu/live/news/7503-destination-service-applications-/offices/spiritualandreligiouslife/story.php