University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire


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Five Students to Travel United States
And Mexico Offering Volunteer Service

 MAILED:  Sept. 2, 2003

EAU CLAIRE — Three University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire students, along with two other UW System students, have formed their own volunteer service organization and will take the fall 2003 semester off to help underprivileged people in the southern United States and Mexico.

The idea for Students Building Communities Through Service was conceived more than a year ago as a group of about 20 friends sat kicking ideas around in the basement of one of their homes. Over time the group dwindled to five, but those five have since managed to establish themselves as an organization, complete with Web site and financial support from individuals and businesses.

Luke Peters, Mark Lee, Christopher Wilcox, Mike Van Handel and Adam Slota said they hope to use their mental, physical and spiritual resources and talents to make a difference in communities in Natchitoches and New Orleans, Louisiana, and Tlaxiaco, Oaxaca, Mexico. A Bible verse — Corinthians:13:13, “And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity” — will provide inspiration during their travels, set to begin Sept. 4, said Peters.

Peters, Lee and Slota all attend UW-Eau Claire. Peters and Lee attended high school together in Appleton and became friends with Slota, from Watertown, during their freshman year at UW-Eau Claire. Wilcox and Van Handel also knew the others from Appleton. Wilcox attended UW-Fox Valley but will transfer to UW-Madison after the service trip, and Van Handel attends UW-Stout.

All five students have had prior experience with volunteer service. Peters and Lee, the team leaders for the group, went to New York to offer their help after Sept. 11.

“They had so many volunteers there by that time that we ended up working in a bakery, helping make meals round the clock for the rescue workers. It wasn’t what we expected to do, but that was where they needed help, so that’s what we did,” said Peters.

He said that experience sold him on the value of combining travel with service work.

“We thought, hey, we love to travel, meet new people and experience new places, but why not do something worthwhile at the same time?” said Peters, who laughed and added, “We’d probably just get into trouble otherwise.”

They plan to bring the same “willing-to-do-whatever’s-needed” spirit to the three groups they have already arranged to visit, all of which have some connection to their family and friends in Appleton. In Natchitoches they expect to help Padre Gregory Downs from Sept. 6-19 with some construction and renovation projects at St. Anthony Church, and in New Orleans they will work from Sept. 22-Oct. 6 with Cory Howat at Boy’s Hope Girls Hope, a home for children whose families are homeless. They’ve been told they will probably tutor children there and also help with landscaping and computer work. In Mexico they plan to work with Padre John Reuter, a pastor for 22 different communities, and they expect to do everything from helping build churches to harvesting crops. They aren’t expected in Mexico until Nov. 11, and they are currently trying to arrange another volunteer opportunity to fill in the time between leaving New Orleans and arriving in Mexico.

Peters said they were lucky enough to have someone donate a camper they could use for the trip, and they will pull that with a minivan. They also plan to be responsible for feeding themselves along the way, and local businesses and individuals, mostly from Appleton, have helped with donations. Because the group didn’t have time to wait to receive 501c3 status as a non-profit organization, the donations are being handled through the St. Bernard Parish Community in Appleton.

“I know I speak for all of us when I say we are really excited about this trip and very grateful to all the people who helped make it possible,” said Peters.

Anyone interested in finding out more or making a donation to SBCTS can visit their Web site which includes e-mail information and a mailing address for St. Bernard Parish, or call Luke Peters at 920-213-3165.


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UW-Eau Claire News Bureau
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Updated: September 2, 2003