With the spring service trips set to commence this weekend, Bowdoin students are preparing to lend a helping hand in local communities.

The programs, sponsored by the Joseph McKeen Center for the Common Good, range from visiting a refugee camp in Portland to helping out at an organic farm and give students the opportunity to participate in community immersion and service programs off campus over a two-day weekend trip.

"I think this semester has been a huge step for the program because we have five trips going out, none of which a McKeen Fellow is leading," said Elsie Thomson '11, the McKeen Fellow who organized the five trips.

The weekend service trip program began in the fall of 2009 in response to increased student interest in pre-orientation and popular Alternative Spring and Winter Break trips.

In order to expand the program and recruit more student leaders, the McKeen Center held a leader training workshop in the fall.

Katherine Foley '13 and Alex Alvarez '13 attended the leader training workshop and will be leading an "International Connections" trip in Portland this weekend.

"We're working with an organization called Community Financial Literacy, an organization dedicated to helping refugees that recently immigrated to the United States with understanding money, budgets [and] finance," said Alvarez.

Foley said she hopes students on the trip learn "that Maine isn't as homogenous as we think it is. There's actually quite a diverse refugee population, and that's one of the needs that the state has."

The McKeen Center also gives students the opportunity to propose trips. Chelsea Shaffer '14 suggested leading a trip to Morris Farm in Wiscasset after working there as part of Common Good Day in September.

"We're going to be building a five-plot organic garden, which will be used for vegetables," said Shaffer.

The group, which will head to Morris Farm in April, will also build a teaching garden for elementary school students in the area.

"It's nice that we'll be able to get out and be working outside," said Shaffer. "Our [project] will definitely be more hands-on."

According to Taylor Cochran '13, who will lead an trip to The Carpenter's Boat Shop in Round Pond, Maine this April, the weekend service trips are "a good opportunity for students to get off campus."

"I would hope that they would get to know their community and build a better connection with their community by getting involved," she added.

The Carpenter's Boat Shop is an apprentice shop for people making major transitions in their lives. Students will have the opportunity to build an outhouse and sheath a boat barn.

Jillian Berkman '12 and Casey Blossom '13 will be leading a trip to Camp Sunshine, a camp for children with life-threatening diseases and their families, in April.

"I want to be a doctor and what draws me in is getting to see firsthand how these illnesses have affected families," said Berkman. "It's really rewarding when you're there...just putting smiles on their faces."

Students on the trip will have the opportunity to sign up for an activity at Camp Sunshine, ranging from arts and crafts to a one-on-one session with a child.

"I hope to spend time with the families and...learn not only what it's like for the children, but also for their families," said Blossom.

Camp Sunshine, along with Mano en Mano, is one of the most popular weekend service trips offered by the McKeen Center. Mano en Mano is a non-profit organization, lead by Executive Director Ian Yaffe '09, that provides affordable housing, educational opportunities and access to health and social services [see story page 5].

Berkman said that she hopes students attending a weekend service trip will "come away from it feeling like they've learned a lot...and they've done something to change someone else's life, even if it was for 10 minutes or three days."

"And hopefully they'll want to come back," she added.