Mission trips that cater to younger volunteers should combine the excitement of travel with structure that ensures groups have a rewarding experience. Short-term service trips provide the opportunity to interact meaningfully with underserved residents of an area and soak up the local culture. These seven organizations offer that combination, providing housing and food for volunteer groups while allowing them to create genuine connections with communities in need.
World Vision: Appalachia
Offering community development and disaster response to impoverished communities, World Vision has crafted trips to many U.S. locations. From Washington to Georgia, groups can combine resources with local churches to assist the needy, with the Appalachia region receiving the most attention from the organization. Suffering economic hardship from the sharp decline in coal mining and manufacturing jobs, rural West Virginia has become one of World Vision’s main focus areas and is a major site for faith group trips. Operations are based around Barbour County, where volunteer groups forge relationships with residents through building projects and a children’s outreach program in which volunteers participate in reading time, crafts and sports with local youth. Accommodations are provided by local parishes, and your group will connect with neighborhood ministries as you serve alongside community members and participate in Bible study and church services. All trips end with a community potluck and an opportunity to reflect on the week’s work. (worldvisionusprograms.org/appalachia)
Best known for the study of international science and culture, National Geographic also organizes dozens of service trips across the globe designed specifically for students. Grade school- to university-aged participants can assist struggling villagers in Fiji and aid conservation efforts in the African savannah. And National Geographic is increasingly expanding its roster of U.S. trips.
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For the Hawaii Community Service itinerary, students settle for two weeks on the Big Island’s Kona Coast to assist in sustainability efforts. Groups work alongside other volunteers to weed out invasive species, assist at an organic coffee plantation and record geothermic activity from nearby volcanoes. In between outdoor activities, group members can stargaze from the summit of Mauna Loa, kayak alongside dolphins in Kealakekua Bay or learn to surf in the Pacific Ocean. For groups interested in cooler climes, the Alaska Expedition offers a visit to the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward, the only cold-water marine science facility in the Western Hemisphere, and opportunities to help preserve the villages and customs of native Alaskans. (ngstudenteexpeditions.com)
World Servants: Navajo Nation
Encompassing the Four Corners areas of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah, the Navajo Nation struggles with underfunded schools and unemployment. Recognizing a volunteer opportunity, World Servants created a program for students interested in assisting the Nation’s residents. Groups meet both the physical and spiritual needs of the Navajo people and learn about the native culture of the American Southwest. Physical needs are met primarily through construction and renovation projects, while spiritual needs are addressed in a number of creative and cultural outlets. Volunteers engage in outreach activities such as visits to Navajo homes to learn about family life on the reservation and assisting employees at the local Kids Club. A community-wide celebration with a barbecue, face painting and games as well as a community worship service is offered to all volunteer groups. Groups can also partner with Navajo churches and communities to build facilities such as community centers and tutoring halls for Navajo youth in addition to constructing play-grounds, basketball courts and baseball fields on the reservation. (worldservants.org/navajo)
Center for Student Missions: Los Angeles
Home to one of the largest immigrant populations in the world, Los Angeles is facing a housing crisis and economic stratification. Young people with a thirst for social justice may want to consider the service opportunities provided by the Center for Student Mis-sions. The group focuses on urban issues like homelessness and crime, and students can spend a week with the group in Southern California to tackle urban issues. Your group will spend the week assisting community organizers in Salvadoran neighborhoods, counselors at the Salvation Army South L.A. Youth Center and volunteers at the regional food bank. Your party can also help the Midnight Mission, a group that has been assisting the homeless and mentally disabled of Skid Row for over a century, and learn about local drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs. During free time, your group can experience the cultural diversity of L.A. with trips to the Little Tokyo, Echo Park and Buena Vista Hills neighborhoods. (csm.org/losangeles)
Rebuilding Together: New Orleans
Twelve years after Hurricane Katrina, Rebuilding Together has quickly grown into the largest home rehabilitation non-profit organization in New Orleans, completing over 500 home repair and community revitalization projects. Youth groups can help repair storm-damaged homes or build new houses for those displaced by the hurricane. Several faith groups work together at one site, so young volunteers can develop teambuilding and communications skills with their peers from across the country. In the evening, your party can tour the French Quarter, hear an authentic Dixieland band or sample Cajun cooking at restaurants along the Mississippi River. (rtno.org)
Experience Mission: South Texas
The international border in South Texas has become an attrac-tive corridor for many Mexican and Latin American immigrants, and the area’s social services are unable to handle the fluctuating population and its needs. Experience Mission looks to remedy the area’s lack of resources, offering mission trips where groups can serve in and around small colonias in the Rio Grande Valley. Mission trip teams serve alongside the local church in Las Milpas, a colonia five miles south of Pharr, Texas and five miles from the Mexican border. Short-term mission teams can also cross the border and travel into Mexico to serve struggling families in Tamaulipas province. (experiencemission.org)
From the exotic to the local, there are short-term mission trips for young people across the country. These seven organizations are merely a fraction of the excellent volunteer opportunities available for faith groups in the U.S.