The Marymount University students who recently returned from Alterative Spring Break trips may have a suntan, but it's not from hanging out at the beach. Instead, these students spent their spring break in the service of others.
In what has become a much-anticipated annual volunteer opportunity, Marymount's Campus Ministry Association organized two service trips for spring break: one to the Dominican Republic and one to a rural area in South Carolina. In both locations, Marymount student volunteers rolled up their sleeves for some heavy labor, learned practical skills, developed new friendships, and made lifelong memories.
This year Marymount's director of Campus Ministry, Father David Sharland, Y.A., led the group of 25 students and staff who traveled to Georgetown, South Carolina. There, they worked with the United Methodist Relief Center, helping disadvantaged local residents whose homes were in severe disrepair.
Victoria Miller, a junior majoring in Communication, recounts, "Our group split up to work on three sites, doing roofing and siding repairs. I worked on the home of a woman who is raising her granddaughter, and their roof desperately needed to be replaced. We had to scrape off old shingles, put new tarpaper on, and then put on the new shingles - a complete re-roofing job."
"It was challenging," she recalls with a laugh. "We learned how to use power tools and quickly figured out the importance of 'popping a chalk line,' which is how you accurately measure where to place the shingles. It didn't go so well at the start, so we learned a lot about patience."
Miller continues, "More seriously, we wanted to do a good job, and we wanted to do it right. We were really gratified when the owner, who had been very shy throughout the week, thanked us and said that after an evening rainstorm, her roof didn't leak for the first time in years! I felt we had really made a difference."
Father Sharland echoes Miller's comments and elaborates on the spiritual component of the experience: "Our theme for the week was The Lord's Prayer verse, 'Thy will be done.' In our nightly prayer groups, we reflected on the fact that in our day's activities we were carrying out God's will that we serve people in need. We also challenged ourselves to look at other areas in our lives and how we can continue to live a life of generosity. Our ongoing mission is to find ways to care for others every day."
The Dominican Republic contingent of 14 students and staff members was led by Father Jack Peterson, Y.A., Marymount's assistant director of Campus Ministry. The group worked under the auspices of the Diocese of Arlington, which supports a mission parish in Banica, a small town near the Haitian border. Their base camp was a remote village a few hours from Banica; from there, they traveled to even more remote outposts in the mountains.
The students' project was to paint chapels. But Laura Schaefer, a junior majoring in Politics, says, "Calling them chapels, or even buildings, is a loose description by U.S. standards. They are more like plywood huts with roofs."
She continues, "These chapels were high in the mountains, and we had to hike about two hours to each site with backpacks that included our food and sleeping bags. Our work supplies, like the paint cans and cement bags, were transported by mules."
In the small villages, the students were greeted by residents who often pitched in to help. As each day's light faded, the MU group took time to bathe in the river, eat their dinner of rice and beans, and then share prayers and reflection. Schaefer laughs, "Once the sun goes down there, it's dark. There's no electricity. But after a day of climbing mountains, painting, and in some cases pouring cement, it's easy to fall asleep on a hard floor in your sleeping bag."
Despite physical discomforts, the week was one of spiritual fulfillment for both groups of volunteers. The students saw God's handiwork in their surroundings and in the people they served. They also found inspiration in daily Mass and evening prayer groups.
Laura Schaefer sums up the experience: "This was my third Marymount service trip to Banica, and I feel a real solidarity with the people there. Through these trips, my faith life has grown by leaps and bounds. I come back each year because this is the spot where I feel closest to God."
Photo 1 - In the Dominican Republic, Emily Gliebe '12, a Business Administration major, teaches girls the order of the Mass in English. Photo by Laura Schaefer
Photo 2 - In South Carolina, Chris Spinner '11, a Business Adminstration major, starts shingling a new roof. Photo by Victoria Miller