Assumption Students Answer the Call to Serve During Winter Break
While many college students spent their winter breaks relaxing and preparing for the upcoming semester, five groups of Assumption students answered the College’s call to engage in compassionate service, sacrificing their break to help those in need in communities across the country and the world as part of a SEND Service Immersion trip.
The SEND program, which is coordinated through the College’s Office of Campus Ministry and established in 1986, provides students—who are accompanied by faculty, staff, or alumni—opportunities to directly impact communities through volunteer work. SEND participants bond with fellow peers, faculty, staff, and alumni while working side-by-side to rebuild neighborhoods, gain new cultural perspective, and engage in prayer activities that reflect on ideals rooted in the Assumptionist tradition. In December and January, 42 undergraduate students participated in five trips, collaborating with organizations such as Habitat for Humanity, Romero Center Ministries, Catholic Charities, and Rostro de Cristo Ministry.
In the small community of Arbolito in Duran, Ecuador, Assumption students spent a week serving, reflecting, and engaging with others at Rostro de Cristo, a Catholic immersion retreat house for high school and college groups whose mission can be summed up in the phrase "being with rather than doing for." Students were provided spiritual and educational opportunities to live out the Gospel of Jesus Christ with the people of Ecuador in hopes of inspiring a lifelong commitment to faith, service, social justice, and solidarity in the global community.
“Unlike other SEND trips where there may be a physical aid and assistance component, such as building houses or packaging disaster relief boxes, SEND Ecuador at Rostro de Cristo focuses on the ministry of presence through being with our brothers and sisters in Christ and focusing on solidarity, compassion, empathy, and simply listening to others’ stories and engaging in conversation,” said Megan Hill, a professor of practice in marketing who served as the faculty leader during the trip, which took place from December 15-22.
Thomas Angell ’20, a history and secondary education major, chose the SEND Ecuador trip because he wanted to fully immerse himself in a week of service. “I wanted to see how others who may be considered less fortunate live their lives and I wanted to do my part to try to help and bring some light to their lives,” he said. “I learned how much I truly care about being with people and hearing their stories.”
According to Prof. Hill, in Ecuador, the students and their co-leaders were split into groups and assigned daily chores, such as purchasing food for dinner from the local market, cooking and washing dishes. Each morning started with prayer and reflection before visiting with neighbors or one of many nonprofits run by religious sisters, including a sewing co-op for women recovering from domestic violence, a health clinic, and a treatment facility for those with leprosy. In the afternoons, the students would visit afterschool programs in various communities, where they learned about Ecuador’s small neighborhoods as well as the country’s political and economic situation. Each day ended with a two-hour reflection on how each encountered the face of Christ.
“The experience is like no other,” said Hannah McCarthy ’20, a marketing major and international business minor, who took her first international flight when she left for SEND Ecuador. “It is personal growth, an emotional journey; it is volunteer work, which is a beautiful thing for others and to feel good for yourself as well.”
McCarthy said the experience was also “sad and mentally conflicting” when it came to processing the poverty she witnessed. “I knew people lived poor in other countries, but it doesn’t really hit you the same until you see it yourself and live amongst them,” she said. “But I think that is a huge part of the experience—being there and seeing it. … On other SEND trips, you are building a house or physically doing work to help others, and can see progress made. [In Ecuador], it is about being present, hearing and listening to others, creating relationships, growing your own faith and finding the face of Christ in everyone you meet. Which are difficult things to measure, and difficult things to feel like made a difference in a community that could use so much.”
Abigail Harkins ’20 said the time she spent with those in the communities as well as with her own classmates during reflection time—in which they opened up and shared their thoughts and feelings—were both meaningful experiences. “I learned the true meaning of service,” she said. “My faith grew deeper and I feel like I now understand the purpose of my faith and why we do what we do.”
Back in the United States, other students spent time volunteering with a variety of nonprofits in four cities: Baltimore; Camden, NJ; Tuscaloosa, AL; and Washington, D.C.
In Tuscaloosa, students spent the week of January 3-10 exploring and learning the history of the area and working with the local chapter of Habitat for Humanity to complete a home for a family of four by installing siding, painting the entire house, staining and putting in cabinets, as well as constructing and installing porch railings. Abby Benting ’21, an education major, said the experience “taught me patience and working together” while Karolina Dzieminski ’19, a biology major, called it “humbling and eye opening. It makes you appreciate what you have back home.” This is the eighth consecutive year that Assumption students have traveled to Alabama as they continue to support the region’s efforts to recover from a tornado that struck the region in 2011.
“The people of Tuscaloosa have faced many challenges, and to experience that with them for a week was a rewarding opportunity,” said James Landry ’19, a marketing major who said it was “the best way” to start his last semester at the College. “We will bring their warm hearts, hospitality, teamwork, and togetherness back to the Assumption community.”
In Baltimore (December 16-22), students worked with the Urban Plunge Retreat and Catholic Charities, to provide care and services to improve the lives of Marylanders in the greatest of need. Throughout the week, students served meals in a soup kitchen, spent time with families at an emergency shelter, and learned to cherish the dignity in all, regardless of their situation.
In Camden, NJ, (January 6-12), students worked at the Romero Center with the Urban Challenge Program, an urban, service learning, immersion experience rooted in the Catholic Faith tradition. Through serving at this urban retreat and social justice education center, students experienced an opportunity to build bridges of understanding while volunteering with a variety of organizations.
Finally, in Washington, DC, (January 6-12), Assumption students spent the week staying with the L’Arche Greater Washington, DC, Community, an inter-denominational Christian community that welcomes people of all backgrounds to share life together. Students worked with individuals who reside in L' Arche's four communal homes, as well as the organization's 16 members who have intellectual disabilities, gaining a deeper appreciation of the gifts that all people bring to their communities.
In addition to winter break, students also have the opportunity to participate in SEND trips as part of an alternative spring break in March—in which they will head to Baltimore; Georgetown, DE; Immokalee, FL; Norristown, PA; Trenton, NJ; and Washington, DC—or during the summer by volunteering in Pine Ridge, SD.
The SEND Immersion Program instills in each participant a mission to serve, which is at the core of Assumption’s foundations in the Catholic Tradition.
Kimberly Dunbar, Director of Public Affairs, Assumption College