University of Georgia students in an advocacy workshop with Russell Testa.

 Five days into their alternative spring break trip to D.C., college students from the University of Georgia ditched the work gloves for a clipboard and a stack of talking points.

Franciscan Mission Service’s newly developed Short-Term Mission and Global Awareness Trips includes a spring break alternative program at its headquarters in D.C. where students have the opportunity to do a little community outreach, a little service work, and a little advocating on Capitol Hill.

For David Briones, Coordinator of Collegiate Activities for the Catholic Center at the University of Georgia, it’s this capitol idea that drew his group of nine students to the District for their late-February break.

“We go on other trips around the country or in the north-east area,” he said. “And I think what is unique about the FMS trip is the advocacy part of it and being able to sit down and have a conversation with a staff member of your congressmen.”

The program’s agenda was structured as stepping stones, building up to the congressional visit at the end of the week. It started with a walking tour of the city: two-mile routes that covered the poorest areas of DC to the wealthiest. What they observed, the sights, the smells, the sounds, set the foundation for the week and was put into context through a few visits to Catholic nonprofits in the area over the next couple of days.

While visiting the elderly at SOME (So Others Might Eat) hospice care, students practiced a Franciscan ministry of presence, talking with the residents and playing games to pass the afternoon. For their visit to Capitol Food Bank, they were able to give back to the community they had gotten to know by sorting and packing food to be distributed to the surrounding neighborhoods.

With some new friends, and a little hands-on work under their belt, the group from UGA settled in for a workshop on the the importance of advocating for change in laws that affect the poor, the elderly, and immigrants. Russell Testa, head of the Holy Name Province Office for Peace, Justice, and Integrity of Creation, directed the students through the advocacy process, preparing them for their appointment with their state’s congressmen.

After a week of immersion in the D.C. community, they decided to focus on education and poverty. “We know we have this problem with vulnerability in poor people, but then how do we get out of that cycle, and the group really felt that education was huge,” commented David.

University of Georgia students meet with their congressman.

 So, after lunch the students headed out the door on a mission, excited and thankful to have this opportunity. “You can go to soup kitchens anywhere in the country,” said David. “but to be able to add that part of (visiting your congressmen) I think is huge and it’s a really good educational experience. Now they can write a letter, they can email, they’ve made a contact and I think it energizes them.”

Before leaving the nation’s capitol the group from UGA created time in their schedule to go to a rally to end homelessness in downtown D.C., an activity not planned through FMS’s program, but perhaps was a natural and fitting end to the spiritual, and educational climb up Capitol Hill.

To learn more about our Short-Term Mission and Global Awareness Trips, go our website under www.franciscanmissionservice.org/shorttermtrips.