Students Spend Break Serving in Their Own Back Yard

The neighborhood was a short drive from campus and yet a world away for a small team of Palm Beach Atlantic University students.

As dozens of their peers left for global projects in Central and South America and the Caribbean during spring break last week, a group of eight students and two staff members remained in West Palm Beach for a unique urban immersion experience.

Palm Beach Atlantic University students engage with children in a West Palm Beach neighborhood during PBA's spring break last week. PBA is a private, Christ-centered college in West Palm Beach, Fla., USA.
Palm Beach Atlantic University students engage with children in a West Palm Beach neighborhood during PBA's spring break last week.

Working in partnership with Bow Down Church and Urban Youth Impact, the students lived and served in an area plagued with poverty and violence north of the city’s downtown district.

The students worked closely with neighborhood children, leading vacation Bible school lessons and repairing their broken bicycles during community bike clinics. They prayed with residents, handed out pancakes and coffee to people on the street in the mornings and ate dinner with families in their homes in the evenings.

They also met people whose lives were transformed by Christ and who remain in the neighborhood by choice, the students said.

With those individuals, outward appearances can be deceiving, said sophomore communication major Katie Gentry, one of the trip’s co-leaders. But “the people in the community can see a huge transformation in them,” she said.

In preparing for the trip, the students worked closely with PBA’s Workship office, which offers volunteer opportunities in the neighborhood and in other nearby areas where there is a great need.

“It was very eye-opening for the students to see that they can have a cross-cultural experience in their own city,” said Kate Magro, assistant director of Workship.

Nathan Chau, a recent PBA graduate who now serves as coordinator of Workship, frequently visits the community but found it humbling to live there and to view it from the perspective of its residents.

“Here’s a neighborhood that really has lost its voice in the greater West Palm Beach community,” he said, noting that it was interesting to learn about the area’s history from those who live there.

The experience also underscored the fact that “mission work starts right where we live,” he said.

This is the second year in which students have had a chance to sign up for the West Palm Beach Urban Immersion Global Project through Campus Ministries. In all, 82 students participated in spring break trips.

PBA students are now raising money and undergoing training for summer trips. They are planning to travel to such destinations as southern Africa, Albania, Asia, South Asia, Malta, Sweden, Thailand and the Turks and Caicos.