Commonwealth University Students, Faculty Return from Service Trip to Rural Jamaica



After a three-year hiatus due to the pandemic, Lock Haven faculty once again led a short-term service-learning program to Harmons, Jamaica, and for the first time, were joined by Bloomsburg students.This program has been offered through Lock Haven since 2015, where students learn and serve in the rural mountainous village of Harmons in south central Jamaica.

Commonwealth University-Lock Haven faculty leaders Jennifer Bell (physician assistant studies) and Amy Way (health science) traveled to Harmons with two graduate students from the physician assistant studies program and 20 undergraduate students from Bloomsburg and Lock Haven (main and Clearfield campuses) in a variety of majors including health science, biology, social work, and health and physical education, as well as two physician assistant graduate students from Lock Haven.

The students learned about healthcare access in rural Jamaica, and participated in several community service projects. These included two health fairs, parent workshops, school outreach, participation in the oral health initiative in partnership with the Jamaican Ministry of Health, and in some of the research initiatives that Bell and Way are pursuing. They also helped to build a house and a new church for the community in partnership with Won By One to Jamaica, a mission that has had a consistent presence in Harmons for more than 30 years.

"After returning to Harmons for many years, it has been encouraging to see the reciprocal relationship that has formed between our students and the community we serve," said Bell. "The Jamaicans are embracing student-led health initiatives, and the students are embracing the Jamaican culture with excitement and respect. I anticipate the partnership between our two communities will continue to grow and develop in years to come."


For several years, the service project team has also sponsored twin girls through the mission's school sponsorship program. The students met the twins and their family in January. The team fundraised in the fall to continue their support of the girls, and additional fundraising is planned for the spring semester. Although school in Jamaica is free, the costs associated with school such as transportation, uniforms, lunch, books, and school supplies can be prohibitive and prevent families from being able to afford to send their children to school.

"Being a student from the Clearfield campus, I had no idea I would connect with students from other campuses when we were working together to educate the Jamaicans on proper healthcare. I will never forget the friendships that were created in Harmons, Jamaica," said Carlee Ginther, junior health science major from St. Marys.

This is the first time the trip included students from other Commonwealth University campuses, with five students from Bloomsburg joining the trip.

"I left Jamaica feeling so rewarded, grateful and appreciative, plus the lifelong memories with awesome people was just an added bonus," said Bloomsburg student Amanda Stoll, junior biology major from Farmingdale, New York.

This semester's trip was the second for Lock Haven physician assistant studies graduate student, Rebecca Zeigler from Snow Shoe, who previously traveled to Harmons in 2018. "The friendships, the culture, the food, the songs - every aspect was overwhelmingly joyful and brought peace to my soul I have never experienced before. I knew only devoting one week of my life in Harmons was not going to cut it and I needed to come back," Zeigler said about her first trip to Jamaica.


Upon her return to Harmons several years later, Zeigler said it seemed as though no time had passed. "Reuniting with old friends, while making new ones and seeing what has changed in the community brought a different perspective compared to my first time around," she said. "I was able to spend more time with the community through group walks, teaching at public health fairs, playing with the children, or having a heart-to-heart with a mom at a parenting class. It was unifying."

"Once you visit Harmons, a piece of your heart will live there forever - yearning to return and experience that part of the world all over again," Zeigler added.

In addition to Zeigler, Ginther, and Stoll, other students who attended the trip were Bloomsburg students Anjali Passi of new Columbia, Hannah Shriver of Beaver Springs, Nicole Stewart of Burlington, New Jersey, and Sarah Wertz of Philadelphia; Clearfield campus students Avry Grumblatt of Clearfield, Emma Morlock of Morrisdale, and Railey Zeigler of Snow Shoe; and Lock Haven students Sarah Blatt of Reading, Anna DelGrippo of Cinnaminson, New Jersey, Emma Ely of Kane, Alayna Hemphill of Watsontown, Alexis Mayes of Coalport, Raelyn McGonigal of Snow Shoe, Ariana Newlen of Mill Hall, Avery Simpson of Boyertown, Juliana Strickling of Colorado Springs, Colorado, Loren Way of DuBois, Madison Wilcox of Catawissa, and graduate student Gina Blase of Sugarloaf.

The next program to Jamaica is planned for the 2023 winter intersession semester, and the experience will be available to all Commonwealth University students at Lock Haven, Bloomsburg, and Mansfield.

"One of the most exciting aspects of integration is the opportunity to offer unique programs like this one to students across the university's campuses," Way said. "This year we had participation from the Bloomsburg, Clearfield, and Lock Haven campuses. It's our hope that students from all of Commonwealth University's locations will join us in our next program to Harmons."

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