Giving up time with family and friends to focus on those in need, 60 Misericordia University students spent their spring break on volunteer projects in some of the most underserved areas of New York, Florida and Pennsylvania, and on missions to assist the Sisters of Mercy on a self-sustaining farm in Rhode Island and at a spiritual renewal center near Philadelphia. The five trips were coordinated by Campus Ministry.
Rebecca Santoleri was one of 10 Misericordia students and two chaperones who assisted at the Community Center at Visitation in the Kensington section of inner-city Philadelphia. The program operated by Betty Scanlon, R.S.M., provides social services, elderly care and after-school care to members of the Latino, Ethiopian and Vietnamese communities in the area. Maria Cabrera, multicultural student outreach coordinator, and Jeffrey Passetti, assistant director of Campus Ministry, were chaperones for the trip.
“It was truly amazing to see how the Community Center at Visitation was a beacon for hope for the neighborhood,” says Santoleri, a junior in the Speech-Language Pathology program from Glens Mills, Pa., who was on her third service trip with Misericordia. The center holds a wide range of events, such as spaghetti dinner nights, English classes, a bi-monthly food bank, and a Spring Fling. It serves as the gym for students attending the nearby Nativity BVM grade school.
“The experiences we had gave us better insight to the world around us and to the challenges that others face,” Santoleri says. “I think we are often quick to judge when someone is living in poverty or in an area surrounded with drugs, violence, and prostitution. Often, we do not take the time to understand why they are there or how we could help them.”
Santoleri previously participated in Misericordia service trips to Cross Keys, Jamaica, and Schenectady, N.Y. “International service holds a special place in my heart especially because my family helped start an orphanage in Honduras (Amigos de Jesus). But the need for service in our own areas is just as dire and that is why I went to Schenectady to work at the City Mission homeless shelter last year and to Philadelphia this year. The wonderful thing about going on service trips is that each one is different. The group you travel with is different, the people you meet and the situations you see are different. But all are amazing, eye opening experiences that give you a new perspective on life,” Santoleri adds.
Rebecca DeLong, a senior medical imaging major from Kutztown, Pa., says she knew what Habitat for Humanity was but never expected to be so personally impacted by her spring break service experience in Punta Gorda, Fla. DeLong was one of 19 Misericordia students and two chaperones who spent a week in the Gulf Coast community that is still recovering from devastation caused by Hurricane Charley in 2004. DeLong, who worked on the exterior of one new home and also put finishing touches on the interior of a second new construction, says she was happy to experience the entire building process, but was even more thrilled to meet and work alongside women who were putting in their own volunteer hours to get a Habitat home of their own.
“Our group was fortunate enough to see a dedication ceremony for a veteran who had some work done to his house by Habitat,” DeLong explains. “Getting to know these women and seeing the veteran’s gratitude for the renovations really made it hit home for me. I gave up my spring break to go to Florida and volunteer, yet seeing the gratitude of those people that I was helping really made me feel like I didn’t give anything up. I gained so much more.”
DeLong even overcame a fear of heights during the process. “I’m not one for heights, but I knew they needed to get this roof done and that it was so important to the process so I went up. I was really proud of myself for being up there and proud of my fellow students who helped me when I was scared to get down. Maybe roofing isn’t my thing, but I created a major part of this house and it was my most memorable moment,” she says. DeLong plans to continue her work with Habitat after she graduates.
Dan Kimbrough, assistant professor of communications, and Patrick McCamy, coordinator of student activities accompanied the Habitat trip students.
Eleven Misericordia students and three chaperones worked as street ambassadors and provided meals at the City Mission of Schenectady, N.Y., a city where the poverty rate is nearly 10 percent higher than the state average. Accompanied by chaperones Lauren Smith, electronic media communications coordinator; Joseph Cipriani, Jr., professor of occupational therapy, and Helen Bogdon, administrative assistant in the College of Arts and Sciences, the group provided meals for the Mission’s 90 homeless residents and packed meals for the mission’s “Weekend Blessings” program that provides free and nutritious meals to elementary school children who rely on the school lunch program during the week to supplement their diet. The Misericordia volunteers also sorted donated clothing for the mission’s thrift store and served as street ambassadors – a group of volunteers who walk the streets to provide a presence in the community between the hours of 4 to 6 p.m.
“Not only does the City Mission house and feed 90 homeless residents, but they provide programs and job opportunities to get them back on their feet,” explains Bethany Killmon, a first-year speech-language pathology major from Bridgeville, Del. “What I found to be most remarkable about City Mission is that it is completely funded by private donations. The government does not give any money to the organization. This truly is a remarkable example of people helping people.
“As we were serving food to the homeless men, women, and children that came in, we were able to hear some of their incredible stories,” Killmon adds. “It’s amazing how open most of these people were with talking about their circumstances and the choices they had made that brought them to that point in their lives. My greatest take away from this experience is that listening is a lot more important than we realize; sometimes just lending an ear can mean a lot to someone. Society gets so wrapped up in technology and luxury that we take for granted what we do have and how important the little things can be.”
Ten Misericordia students and two chaperones traveled to the New Dawn Earth Center in Cumberland, R.I., an Earth sustainability center operated by the Sisters of Mercy of New England. They helped prepare the educational center for the spring season and took part in classes regarding the wildlife in the region. They also assisted at the Mount Saint Rita’s Retirement Village by helping to serve elderly residents in the nursing center, where they learned that small acts of kindness mean a great deal.
“I learned that no matter what kind of service you are providing someone’s life is being positively touched and that person will appreciate it,” says Mariah Thomas, an occupational therapy major from Audubon, N.J. “I learned that no matter what you do, do it whole-heartedly, because you have the power to impact someone’s life. I am so thankful to have had such a wonderful opportunity.”
Chaperones for the Rhode Island trip were Carolyn Yencharis Corcoran, assistant director of career development, and her husband, Bill Corcoran.
A group of nine Misericordia students and chaperone Hilary Westgate, information literacy librarian, spent their time working at the Cranaleith Spiritual Center, a retreat and environmental education center operated by the Sisters of Mercy near Philadelphia. The center offers spiritual and professional retreats in a country setting close to the city with a focus on programs for inner-city residents and at-risk groups, such as members of the homeless population. Visitors to the center learn about environmental stewardship, participate in gardening and sustainability programs, and enjoy meals made with locally grown ingredients often cooked by the Sisters of Mercy and volunteers.
The Misericordia volunteers helped to clear the grounds of fallen trees and snow and make trails accessible to visitors. They helped clean and prepare the house for guests. They also cooked many meals for guests of the center, and learned about healthy cooking, composting and gardening. They helped build structures for the construction of future gardens and prepared seeds for planting. They also prepared a space in the center for a new summer program in pottery making for developmentally disabled and homeless adults.
For more information about service opportunities at Misericordia University, please call the Campus Ministry Office at (570) 674-6495 or log on to www.misericordia.edu/muservice or www.misericordia.edu/servicelearning. Founded and Sponsored by the Sisters of Mercy in 1924, Misericordia University is Luzerne County’s first four-year college and offers 36 academic programs on the graduate and undergraduate levels in full and part-time formats.
From Misericordia University