It has become a small but significant Bethel College tradition for a certain number of graduates each year to choose voluntary service right after college.

Now Bethel is beginning to see a new but related service phenomenon – students who defer college for a year to do VS.

This fall, there are six such first-year students (and another half-dozen in their second, third or final year) who did service before college. They list many positive results from choosing this path, including definite benefits to college life.


I figured this was the time for it – it seemed easier with no college debt yet, says freshman Laird Goertzen, Goessel. I knew I wanted to do a year and do service internationally.

Radical Journey e-mailed me right when I was thinking about it. A representative had been at church and said: ‘Sign up for anything you think you might ever want to do.’ Goertzen spent the year in Nanchong, China, teaching English.

Explore interests

I didn’t really know what I wanted to do in college yet, says freshman Tim Regier, Newton. I thought it would be good to take a break from school and regain focus.

He also chose Radical Journey and spent the year in Paraguay, working with Alto Refugio, an AIDS charity.

Regier came home still uncertain what he wanted to study. However, one of his tasks at Alto Refugio was working on its website and that was helpful. I already knew I liked the work but I found there’s a lot of need in that area, especially overseas. A lot of the donations Alto used to buy medicine came though its website.

Even though I hadn’t taken any web design classes, I could help them just with basic knowledge I had. I’m still interested in a lot of things but that is in the mix.

For freshman Abby Schrag, Newton, right before college was a good time, because I thought maybe after college, I’d be more career-focused. She was part of the Service Adventure unit in Philippi, W.Va., and worked in a clinic that served many low-income and underinsured clients.

I got a lot of experience in the health field, she says, It helped me figure out if that’s something I want to pursue further. It affirmed for me that I want to be involved in something medical. Working with two physician assistants at the Philippi clinic has put that career at the top of her interest list.

Confirm interests

There were others who also found that a year of service affirmed an existing career focus.

I had already planned out what I was going to do, what I was going to be, says freshman Chris Wagoner, North Newton, but I talked to both peers and older people and they all said taking a year off is better, to have a break between all the academic learning.

He was in Service Adventure in Raleigh, N.C., where one of his service placements was working in a Habitat for Humanity ReStore.

Service Adventure didn’t change what I wanted to do [at Bethel] – it reaffirmed it. I had planned on a psychology major – I want to figure out the best way to help people with psychological disorders. I saw some of that in the ReStore. There were people who, if they got you for a second, would talk your ear off and I’m pretty sure it's because they didn’t have anyone else to talk to.

I knew that was the kind of people I wanted to [work with] and that brought it home. I was intrigued before Service Adventure – now, I really want to help people, because I’ve seen it.

Liz Schrag, Newton, went to Service Adventure in Anchorage, Alaska, where she worked with Homeward Bound, a nonprofit that serves homeless people.

I was thinking about music education before, she says. I didn’t do anything music-related last year and I didn’t play my bassoon at all. I realized how much I missed that, and kept feeling like music ed was the way to go.

Other benefits

I grew a bit more socially, Wagoner says. My spiritual beliefs became much more solidified and personal, more my own.

I feel like I haven’t done enough in my community to serve, says Liz Schrag. I thought this would give me some of the tools to help impact my own community later.

Plus, she says, As a freshman, I’m not as concerned about fitting in. Lots of [first-year] students seem to have a hard time figuring out how to be on their own, doing laundry, eating healthy – I’m confident about being on my own two feet.

The sixth first-year student at Bethel who did a service gap year was Erin Regier, Newton, who was in Service Adventure in Albuquerque.