Pulling weeds and patching roofs in 100-degree heat isn’t everyone’s idea of a vacation, even if it is in Puerto Rico. But then the idea behind Raiders Serve is building community, both in the host country and among the Pierce College students volunteering their time and talents.
Now in its fourth year, Raiders Serve offers students a great way to help others in unique settings. “Our goal is to provide a cross-cultural immersion experience focused on service,” says Cameron Cox, Director of Student Life at the Fort Steilacoom campus, who oversees the program.
Student Mary Banner wanted to help the people of Puerto Rico after last year’s hurricane. Then she spotted a flyer at Pierce College advertising the 2018 Raiders Serve trip to Puerto Rico.
“I knew this was for me,” she said. “It ended up being a life-changing experience.”
The 8-day trip involved 9 students and 2 leaders, Cox and Sean Cooke, Director of Student Life at the Puyallup campus. The group shared a rental home on the east coast of Puerto Rico. They cleaned up trail and beach areas, repaired a roof, played with kids at a Boys & Girls Club and spruced up a community center and garden.
Student Raymond Power felt drawn to the trip to honor his father, who was born in Puerto Rico and passed away last fall. “My calling was to go and serve and help where my father grew up,” he says. “It was more than I thought it would be. It was amazing to experience the culture, the people and the food. Even though there was destruction, the community all pulled together. We could all learn a lot from their sense of community.”
Each evening, the students gathered for debriefing sessions where they shared their experiences. Students also journaled daily. “I was surprised by how much we bonded as a group,” said Banner. “We are definitely family now.”
A highlight for Power was working with the Boys & Girls Club kids, who did not speak English but loved having the students there. “We tried to teach them a simple dance, and when we were done, they taught us a much more complicated dance.”
Raiders Serve accepts up to a dozen students per year. There is an application and interview process that begins in the fall. Students in this program are genuinely committed, says Cox. Not only do they pay $650 each to help cover costs (Pierce College covers most costs), they also pair up as a Conversation Partner with a Pierce College international student, help with local community projects and attend a series of pre-meetings before the trip.
Power offers this advice for students interested in the program: “Don’t be scared. Just take the leap and do it. I was very scared and almost didn’t go. Now I can’t wait to go back and travel to other places to give back. Now I want to use my education in social service and mental health on a worldwide scale.”
For more information on Raiders Serve, contact the Office of Student Life at the Fort Steilacoom campus or email Cameron Cox at CMCox@pierce.ctc.edu.
Reprinted with permission. See original story on the Pierce College website.