Lehigh students hold animals at Possumwood Acres Wildlife Sanctuary in Hubert, North Carolina, during the spring 2020 environmental conservation SERVE trip. Students were informed about the shift to online learning while on the trip, which negatively impacted some of their experiences. (Courtesy of Adriana Perez-Flores)

SERVE trips cut short due to coronavirus

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Students and advisers attending SERVE trips over spring break experienced abrupt changes with their service efforts in response to the coronavirus pandemic and the change to remote learning. 

The Community Service Office organizes SERVE trips, where Lehigh students travel to different communities with a mission to make tangible changes to help those in need. This program helps promote awareness of struggles in the world and how the Lehigh community can commit to social change. 

This past spring break, the Community Service Office hosted four trips across the country, each focusing on a different area of need: environmental conservation, food sourcing, Habitat for Humanity and neighborhood realization. 

“COVID-19 was, of course, a topic of discussion, yet our participants were able to continue the work at their sites and continue their week of meaningful service,” said Sarah Gelfand, an assistant director in the Community Service Office.

Rachelle Huh, ‘23, attended the Habitat for Humanity spring SERVE trip at Goldsboro, North Carolina. Although her trip was not directly affected by coronavirus, Huh talked about a student in a neighboring SERVE trip that felt ill.

People on the trip became concerned about the student having coronavirus, which caused tension with the hosting group and made their (the neighboring group’s) trip end a day early,” Huh said.

When the SERVE trip sites received notice of the shift to online classes, Lindsay Lebresco, a director in Lehigh’s Communications and Public Affairs office who attended the trip, said spirits remained high while the group was hard at work.  

Lebresco said the reality about the rest of the semester started to really sink in on the drive home.

The sudden change to remote learning had a negative effect on the mood of Huh’s whole group, as well. 

She said other students in her group were concerned about whether or not they would be refunded. 

“We received the news right after we got off our shift and decided to get ice cream, but instead, we tried to figure out the aftermath on our phones and contemplated our next steps,” Huh said. 

There were three seniors, two international students and three students from New York on the trip Lebresco went on. One lived close to New Rochelle — one of the major coronavirus outbreak areas. Making decisions about housing was on everyone’s minds, Lebresco said about her SERVE group.

Gelfand said her hope for students and advisers who participated in each trip is that everyone was able to take what they had learned and bring it back to Lehigh to engage in meaningful service on campus.

Lebresco traveled to Lynchburg, Virginia, with her SERVE group. They worked closely with the organization Lynchburg Grows and completed tasks such as greenhouse maintenance, harvesting vegetables and preparing fields for seeding. 

Lebresco said she wasn’t disappointed with her experience because her group worked hard to support a local organization.

“One of my lifelong dreams was to build a house, so I felt that Habitat for Humanity was a good opportunity for me to use my time to help others and connect myself with other Lehigh students,” Huh said, reflecting on her trip to North Carolina.

Lebresco said the Community Service Office always has great programs.

“I love the work they do for the local community, so I wanted to make the same impact for a community outside of the Lehigh Valley for spring break,” Lebresco said.

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