For The Catholic Messenger
DAVENPORT — Promoting service and social justice are at the heart of the Ambrosian spirit and service trips are a way for students to live out that commitment, leaders of St. Ambrose University say.
Kaitlin Depuydt, director of co-curricular service and justice ministry with SAU campus ministry, said service trips offered during spring break allow for reflection and community building among students as they learn and grow in their faith together.
Groups of five students and one staff member traveled to Cleveland, Ohio; East St. Louis, Ill.; and Detroit, Mich. Another nine students and one staff member traveled to Kentucky.
“We have gone to the East St. Louis and Detroit sites before, but it was our first year with Maggie’s Place in Cleveland and Christian Appalachian Project in Kentucky,” Depuydt said.
Here are some reflections by students on each of the service trips:
East St. Louis, Ill.
Freshman Ellen Joerger said, “Over spring break we were given the opportunity to serve in East St. Louis. While we were there, we worked in a homeless shelter as well as an after-school program. East St. Louis used to be an all-American city until factories began closing in the mid-1900s. This decline sent many workers away from East St. Louis to find jobs elsewhere. Still today, there is a lack of job opportunities that has caused many of its residents to be homeless or live in poverty.
“The first day of the trip we attended Mass at St. Augustine Catholic Church. The lively atmosphere was very welcoming. We were invited to eat with the parishioners at their potluck meal after Mass. Beginning on Monday we worked at Holy Angels homeless shelter. Our group organized donated clothes, toys and household items that would be sold at a yard sale for the community. All the money raised from the yard sale was put towards medicine and bus tickets for the women and children living at the shelter. Every afternoon we went to the after-school program where we helped entertain elementary school kids by playing board games, going outside or helping with homework.
“The week of service was very eye-opening … we were able to make our own contribution as well as clearly see the many individuals dedicating their lives to making East St. Louis an all-American city again.”
Junior Derek Flannery said, “It is so easy when you grow up and live a relatively successful and prosperous life to forget those who are less fortunate. Detroit has become the epitome of the consequences of living such a complacent lifestyle in America. This city has seen many greater days, but in the wake of such financial hardships, it almost feels like Detroit has been left to its own demise.
“Instead of seeing the struggle to survive of a once-prosperous city, all we sometimes choose to see from the outside is the negative stigma of violence and destruction portrayed in the media. I was unfortunately foolish enough to follow this same mentality up to the beginning of the trip.
“… I armed myself with a prospective and opinion that was truly not founded in fact or reasonable first-hand experience. Two days into the trip is all it took for me to get the proverbial “slap in the face” that I needed. I worked right beside the people of the community and got to see first-hand what these people really are about and what their story is.… I saw people. I saw pain. I saw hope. I saw joy. I saw contentment. I saw injustice. I saw the life of everyday people like us trying to make it through the world we live in.
“My heart broke for the community and for what these people live through on the daily basis. But what was most surprising was that while these people had very little by most standards, they still found contentment. In the midst of the abandoned and destroyed communities of Detroit, there is hope. This experience transformed my prospective and truly convicted me of how off focus my life has become, and I am truly grateful for it.
“Breaking out of my comfort zone to see the world and the people was exactly what I needed to recapture the priceless value that a human life has, no matter who they are currently or the choices that they or others have made for them. … Let us try in some way to rewrite what it means to be human through love for one another, unwarranted and undeserved grace and forgiveness and to never ignore and forget the least of us.”
Brooke Neumann, sophomore
“After a long, cramped, nine-hour long car ride to Cleveland we finally pulled up to our destination: Maggie’s Place, a welcoming home of hospitality for pregnant and parenting women.
“Our service group stayed at Maggie’s place for nearly one week completing tasks which needed to be completed around the house. We shoveled the driveway, painted ceilings, deep cleaned the bathrooms and kitchen and sorted through the endless amount of donations. Our week was a seamless balance of work in the mornings and afternoons, home-cooked meals for lunch and dinner and lots of quality time spent with the moms (and the one baby of the house).
“I gained a great deal of knowledge about myself, other people and about God through this trip. I learned that I am a patient person who likes to listen to other people’s stories. I learned to be kind to all people because each person I encounter is fighting a hard battle. I learned to truly open my heart to a diverse population. I learned that God moves through everyone and everything. God plans out every step we take and it is our job to trust in those steps.
“I can see how God did just that because there was a tugging at my heart to apply for this specific service trip. As a nursing student, I could instantly see how the women I would encounter at Maggie’s Place would teach me to become a more understanding, compassionate and open-hearted nurse.
“The most moving part of the entire week-long experience, for me personally, was hearing how excited the mothers were to finally see their children and to hear of the hopes and plans they had for them.… There was nothing more powerful than witnessing how the unending love of a mother can heal many wounds, provide unconditional love, and give so much hope for the future.”
Sophie Foreman, junior Junior
Sophie Foreman said many people have asked, “Hey, Sophie, how was your spring break?” It is a question that she has found difficult to answer. “Having spent my spring break at a remote work site in the mountains of Appalachia, I am sure that a simple ‘fine, thanks’ won’t suffice.
“Our journey to a small community in eastern Kentucky began with a long ride. We went to Camp Andrew Jackson, the headquarters of the Christian Appalachian Project’s Workfest near Berea, Ky. We, along with students from seven other universities, eagerly arrived at camp not knowing exactly what to expect.
“We were broken up into work crews. Each crew met their respective homeowners and set to work making repairs and building additions…. After only a week of working side-by-side with these incredible and inspiring individuals, I felt as though I had known them forever.
“On the second day of our service, another layer of challenge was added: rain. All day, the gray sky wept on the hills of Appalachia. To my utter surprise, however, the weather was met with nothing but positivity. We created our own sunshine through encouragement, reflection and group prayer.
“By the end of the week, we had repaired the trailer’s underpinning, installed a moisture barrier, added railings onto the front ramp and built a complete porch, ramp and landing leading from the back door. It was both extremely gratifying and overwhelming to be able to stand on a wooden porch we had built together.
“At a final, celebratory meal with the entire community, each family thanked their work crews for the week of hard work. Through the families’ gratitude, we were each reminded of something very special: we were prayers in action. These people prayed for help, and we arrived as God’s answer — a deeply humbling thought.”