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Queens celebrates a decade of community building in Guatemala

In the central highlands of Guatemala lies a city called Chimaltenango that still suffers scars from a decades-long civil war that ended in 1996. But students from Queens have helped the people rebuild and restore a formerly lost sense of community.

For 10 years, the Rev. Dr. Diane Mowrey, Queens' chaplain and professor of religion, has taken groups of students to Guatemala during spring break. The goal of the Guatemala outreach is to build relationships and to deepen one's exploration of faith. Over the year students have built bathrooms and roofs - and even a rabbit hutch - but most importantly they've built relationships with the people they visit.

Participants say they come back with a better understanding of who they are, about God's role in their life, and of how God works in a world beyond the one they've known, Mowrey says.

When Stephen Baldwin arrived as a freshman at Queens, he couldn't decide if he wanted to be a minister or the President of the United States. Whatever he did, he wanted to stretch his talents and goals.

Mowrey met with the Presidential Scholar and saw his interest in serving others, and suggested he participate in the Guatemala trip. Baldwin went for the first time that spring. He was so invigorated by the experience that he returned every year until he graduated.

In Chimaltenango, Queens students helped build the town's community center. They also have spent time with members of Heart of the Women, a weaving cooperative formed by survivors of the civil war. Many lost husbands and sons, and came to the city to start fresh. Students hear their stories and help with projects; the violence they survived resonated so with one Queens student that she began working with area women's shelters when she returned to Charlotte.

About 15 students make the trip each year, expanding their perspective on the world and giving from their hearts. Many said their trips inspired them to change their career paths so they could continue serving others after graduation. One is now in law school studying international human rights. Another joined the Peace Corps.

And Stephen Baldwin? He became a minister in West Virginia. Last year he brought some middle school students from his church to Charlotte to work in a soup kitchen. He says his goal is to teach them that the world is bigger than we realize, and we all can make a difference - lessons he learned at Queens and in Guatemala.

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