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The Campus Ministry Office sponsored a spring break mission trip to the St. Vincent de Paul Young Adult Center in the Germantown section of Philadelphia March 10 to 15. The group learned about the spirituality of St. Vincent de Paul, who had a heart for working with the poor and connecting the wealthy with those in need. The program focused on service, reflection and education.

Among their activities, the students volunteered with community groups such as Broad Street Ministry, which offers “radical hospitality” to those in need; PAR-Recycle Works, which provides transitional employment for those who have been incarcerated, and Face to Face, a human services organization. They also worked at a children’s aftercare program and at the SHARE Food Program, cleaned up a neighborhood and visited retired Vincentian priests.

Jill Salerno, a junior majoring in psychology, said what made this volunteerism project special for students was being able to live in the neighborhood where they worked. “While any service is great, getting to stay in the city and see the community we were helping out really added so much impact to the experience.”

The students appreciated the people they met at the service sites. “Whether it was others running these nonprofit organizations, people experiencing homelessness or just people in the city, everyone was so inspiring and wonderful to talk to,” said Salerno.

Leanna Chen found that as a public health major the experience helped her gain a greater understanding of community needs so she can better serve people. Participating in a service trip immersion, she said, helps to break down social barriers that one may not be aware exist. “It helps to focus us upon our similarities and the “differences” can then disappear and melt into the background.”

The project was led by Director of Campus Ministry Colleen O’Brien. At the university’s Founders Day Mass and celebration March 22, she too reflected on the many people the students met and the gifts they received from those encounters.

“If I dig a little deeper into the reality of the lives of the people I met last week,” she said, “I’m reminded that life is hard and sometimes the exchange leaves us with feelings of sadness, challenge or even a call to our own growth. Our first morning of service was spent at Broad Street Ministries, a place of radical hospitality as they call it, where they serve anyone living with scarcity in their lives. Towards the end of the meal a woman came in to get some hot food with her son … after my initial thought of sadness I was moved to think more deeply about the challenge this mother may face every day … wondering where she is going to get her son his next meal, where they will lay their head at night, or how she will teach him to be a kindhearted and strong man when he grows up. And for this I cannot help but think about her strength … the strength that it takes to get out of bed in the morning, to put one foot in front of the other and step out into the unknown. Although our interaction was short and no words were exchanged, I believe I will carry her value of true strength with me as I move forward from last week.”

The experience inspired several of the students to want to do more to reach out to those in need. “Getting to serve and work with people of the community was such an amazing experience and just further ensured that I want to have a career involving service to others,” said Salerno.

Dana McStowe, campus ministry staff member, also attended. The other students who took part were Prabhat Gurung, Brooke McPherson, Natasha Fontenez, Kevin Munoz, Oluwatosin Adebiyi and Elizabeth Rebeiro.

Watch video on the Spring Break Mission trip to Philadelphia.