Alternative breaks teach life lessons

Highlands Ranch native explores El Salvador, city gangs

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To most college students, the thought of spring break translates to warm, sunny beaches and a lack of responsibility. Not to Molly Deibel.

The Xavier University junior, who heralds from Highlands Ranch, instead chooses to make a difference and look at things through a different lens. Deibel, who spent her freshman year spring breaking in El Salvador, recently returned to her Ohio school following a week of working in gang prevention in Albany, N.Y.

The alternative breaks program at Xavier — similar to that at other schools — offers 21 programs each spring, sending roughly a dozen students, along with a faculty adviser, to domestic and international locations to study social issues firsthand.  

“It definitely reconfirmed my passion for social justice and made it more personal and emotional for me,” she said of her first trip to El Salvador. “A lot of the focus was on meeting people, learning how they live their daily lives and how they survive. I heard a lot of firsthand stories about their civil war and how they are recovering.”

On that trip Deibel spent three days living with four generations of her host family in a small, two-room concrete house out in the country. She heard how her host mother’s 20-year-old son risked life and limb to trek through Mexico and illegally enter the United States to support them all.

“It definitely made me more aware of the other side of the issue, and made me want to open my eyes to the other side of a lot of otherissues,” she said. “At home in America we just hear how it’s illegal and people shouldn’t do it, but we don’t see the necessity of it. It completely changed my perspective on immigration.”

Deibel took on a leadership role this spring as one of two student site leaders in New York state.

“We learned a lot about gangs in general, both national and international,” she said. “It’s amazing how they have become so connected with technology these days.”

Deibel and her classmates worked with young people directly through gang prevention education, and she also assisted former gang members in studying for the G.E.D. as well as building a house for Habitat for Humanity.

“There are a lot of people who want to get out of the system and better themselves, but struggle to do so,” she said. “I think the programs are extremely effective in teaching them to become marketable and to rehab and show improvement.”

As a whole, Deibel said, the trips have taught her to step out of her comfort zone and forced her to encounter issues she might otherwise not have known about. As a public relations major with plans of going into public law, the Regis graduate fully expects to have a third go-round in the program next year.

“It beats Daytona Beach,” she said.

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