Keldie Chewning (’13), sociology major with a minor in leadership studies

Alex Reiner (’13), art history major with minors in leadership studies and anthropology

It was during freshman year that Keldie Chewning and Alex Reiner both experienced their first alternative spring break, accompanying CNU’s Habitat for Humanity team to Biloxi, Miss. That rewarding venture opened their eyes to the vast potential college students have to meet pressing human needs.

By the time they were sophomores the duo had developed REACH, a campus organization with service at its heart. “We began REACH to give the opportunity of alternate spring break service to as many students as wanted it,” says Chewning, REACH vice president. Through the group’s work, participants engage in community service for a substantial period of time, building community relationships while connecting with teammates and those they serve.

Reiner, the group’s president, notes, “I wanted to provide the opportunity for other students to have the same life-changing experience. I also saw a need within the CNU community to offer more service trips and thought REACH was just the thing to fill that need.”

CNU prides itself on service, and REACH expands student engagement beyond Newport News — and even Virginia. More than a service organization, REACH is a learning experience, a hands-on opportunity challenging members to become effective role models and leaders.

A young group, REACH has sponsored alternative spring break tips the past two years and will launch a third schedule of trips in 2012-13. First-year destinations included Pipestem, W.Va., where students addressed rural poverty, and Baltimore, Md., where they served the hungry and homeless (see the trip blog). This past year REACH’s efforts expanded to three destinations — Kentucky, Washington, D.C., and nearby Richmond.

Trips include cultural experiences, inter-community and relationship building, and physical service. The group hopes to add an international destination in the future.

Serving as a team leader affected Chewning in profound ways. “Leading trips allowed me to develop my abilities to handle logistical and relational matters as well as work to quickly and efficiently solve problems. I have developed so many relationships with community partners and REACH general board members, which are so important to me. Being a trip leader for REACH was a challenging and rewarding experience that has impacted the leader I am today.”

Chewning planned and led the Richmond trip with fellow student Alexis Stribbling. Among her pre-trip duties, she was tasked with handling logistics and project funding. “During the trip I was responsible for communicating with the community partner, planning service activities, coordinating extra learning activities and checking in with the trip members throughout the week,” she says.
Reiner counts organizing and leading trips as her greatest college learning experience. “There have been many challenges along the way that have shown me how passionate I am about community service and my love for providing the opportunity for myself and others to serve in the community,” she says. “It has been wonderful these past two years to see students step up to attend trips and dedicate themselves 110 percent to creating community partnerships, doing whatever they can to better the world around them.”

Students can get involved with REACH in a number of ways. “If this is their first experience with REACH, applications to attend trips will come out in the fall,” Reiner says. For those hesitant to commit to a full week, REACH is adding a shorter fall break trip to its itinerary.  

“If students are wondering if REACH is something they would like to be a part of, I encourage them to talk with any students who have participated in one of our trips and hear their story,” Reiner says. “Being a part of REACH has been an amazing opportunity to work with passionate students and learn about and give back to the world around me. Who wouldn't want to give that a try?”

Chewning agrees: “We cannot wait to have new faces in our organization and look forward to the passion for service and leadership each student will bring.”--Matt Schnepf