New Salem, Pa, Denver, Colorado, San Lucas Tliman, Guatamala – Dedicating their time and talents to make the world a better place, 32 students from the Queens and Staten Island campuses spent this past Spring Break serving others in the United States and abroad.
Campus Ministry staff accompanied students on each service plunge. They all spent the week living simply and taking part in community meals, prayer, and reflection. Each evening, students gathered to discuss their day and share their experiences, an opportunity to process what they had seen, heard, and learned at their service sites. A cornerstone of the plunge experience, reflection is deeply rooted in the Vincentian heritage of the program.
New Salem, Pennsylvania
Seven students participated in the New Salem Plunge, where they worked alongside the Daughters of Charity at service sites including Meals on Wheels, the Community Ministries Thrift Store, the St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store, the Salvation Army Soup Kitchen, and the Oak House Drop-In Center for mentally ill adults, in Fayette County, Pennsylvania. In addition to volunteering, students also shared a meal with members of the community, visited the Coal and Coke Heritage Center, and enjoyed their first Fish Fry, a local Lenten tradition.
These experiences helped students learn about the needs, values, and history of the New Salem community. “This was a valuable service and community immersion opportunity into rural poverty and the community of Fayette County,” said David Phu ’17P. “It was a true example of Vincentian spirituality.”
In St. John’s first plunge to Denver, Colorado, ten students spent time at various sites and organizations geared that serve the poor and disadvantaged. They resided at Casa Karibu—a home for those returning from mission—located in the downtown area. In partnership with the Colorado Vincentian Volunteers (CVV), students packaged orders at the Food Bank of the Rockies, helped at the Little Sisters of the Poor nursing home, and worked at a home redevelopment organization, experiencing a way of life that St. Vincent de Paul modeled. “One of the reasons that I chose a Vincentian school was to do service,” explained Wesley Friel ’14CPS. “I feel that the Denver plunge wholly satisfied that desire—now I find myself thirsting for more.”
One night the Denver group shared dinner with the members of CVV where many volunteers spoke about why they chose to join and inspired many of the students to consider spending a year in service and solidarity. After dinner, the group gathered for prayer and reflection to tie together the ideas of purpose, mission, and meaning, all rooted in the weeklong experience. “I noticed that every volunteer I encountered actually cared about the population they were serving,” said Michael Bui ’16P. “Their genuine love to serve was inspiring.”
San Lucas Toliman, Guatemala
Learning from and serving the rural Mayan community, 15 students ventured to San Lucas Toliman, Guatemala. When they arrived, with no preconceived notions or expectations, they were humbled by the sincere welcome by the local people. Throughout the week, the students immersed themselves in Guatemalan culture through faith, music, interaction, and service. “When I first arrived, my surroundings were like a painting. Every piece was like a work of art, but I did not feel as though I belonged inside the painting,” said Dana Caccio ’14Ed. “After the week of service and solidarity, I got to dive into the painting and actually see the details that I would have otherwise not understood by just looking at the surface.”
The students’ journey began in December when they met for the first time to learn about the service they would be doing, the community in which they would be living, and the social justice issues they would encounter. Since that initial meeting, they have been preparing for this transformative experience through prayer, fundraising, and formation. “Never in my life have I felt so connected to the rest of humanity,” said Lauren Laurelli ’13C, who participated in the Guatemala Plunge. “I put myself whole-heartedly into the week and have received a lifetime worth of fulfillment.”