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'Refresh' program lets students get away

By Kim Walter -- kwalter@nvdaily.com

Students and staff involved with Spiritual Life at Shenandoah University traveled to Gatlinburg, Tenn. last week to relax, reflect, and most importantly, "refresh."

From Sunday to Thursday, the group of 13 stayed in a log cabin overlooking the Great Smoky Mountains. There, they spent time thinking about the past school year -- academically, socially and spiritually -- which led to thoughts of the future.

Spiritual Life Coordinator Amy Howard said this year was the first that the retreat was offered, and that it was been a great learning experience.

"It is extremely important to teach and demonstrate to students the importance of self-care, especially after a hectic year," Howard said. "In our society, we tend to plow forward from one thing to the next without taking time to reflect and relax."

During the school year, students involved with Spiritual Life were asked to write an essay explaining why they should be able to go on the trip, and to offer some ideas they had to enhance the department. There was a limit of 16 spots, but Howard said they were able to accept everyone who showed interest in the trip.

Spiritual Life was able to cover all associated costs for the trip, including special activities and outings in Gatlinburg. The group visited the WonderWorks museum and the Dixie Stampede, and did some sightseeing and hiking. Students were asked only to bring extra spending money.

"This has allowed students to attend who otherwise may not have had the opportunity at this time of the year," said Howard.

Emily Ehrgott, a junior music therapy major, said the trip sounded like something she'd need at the end of the school year when she first heard about it.

"Getting away was the purpose of the trip, but I love relaxing at the end of the day," she said. "It's been great because I've been able to talk to people that I didn't get to during the year because how hectic school and scheduling is."

Students planned out the trip, and met each day to reflect on different parts of their life. They also discussed big picture ideas that could be implemented in the department next year that would enhance student involvement and experience.

"I was so welcomed into the program, but I saw areas where positive change was needed," said sophomore music education major Michelle Viljoen. "We're such a diverse group, but it's great because there are a lot of people who are passionate about different areas."

Viljoen said she's continuously amazed at how students come together for a common cause, even if there is a difference of opinion.

"Even if we were not completely agreeing, we were all on the same brainwave as far as which direction we want to go in," she said. "We all want to see good things happen."

"We all came together and respected each other," said Ehrgott.

Howard hopes the retreat can be offered at the end of every school year, as this first trip proved successful.

"Part of the culture of Student Life is to engage," she said. "Our big goal is always to empower students and give them ways to lead."

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