Legacy of helping the ‘dear neighbor’ continues when students spend breaks volunteering.
Brittany Terry ’15 remembers spending her Saint Rose break on a service trip preparing meals for the poor and homeless in Washington, D.C., and realizing how thin the line between financial health and poverty can be.
“In D.C., we worked closely with people experiencing homelessness,” Terry said. “As a black woman from a particularly upper-middle-class family, it was deeply painful for me to work so closely with those who reminded me of family members and (see) how easily one can end up in such a position.”
Service trips at Saint Rose bring the College’s social justice mission to life, helping students become aware of environmental, financial, or political challenges others face.
The College’s first service trip was in 1995 to Washington, D.C. Since then, the trips have expanded to meet the needs of communities in Guatemala, San Francisco, and New Orleans.
“Attending service trips in undergrad taught me a lot about not only the world around me, but a lot about myself and my true character,” said Terry, who studied sociology and communications at Saint Rose and attended trips to D.C. and New Orleans.
Advocating for change
The Washington, D.C., trip combines education and advocacy. Sister Sean Peters, who organizes many of the trips, said students meet with members of Congress or their staff members to advocate for the poor or homeless.
Students also volunteer, serving meals and attending workshops that delve into the social problems underlying these communities.
“This was my first experience of direct contact with governmental officials, and upon returning from D.C., I felt so inspired to continue efforts to engage in civic action,” said Marrisa Scott ’21, who is studying music performance and participated in service trips to D.C. and Antigua.
“I also realized how far simple gestures can go: volunteering at soup kitchens, engaging in meaningful conversations with people, seemed to really have an impact on not only their attitude but my own,” she said.
Peters said students learn to recognize the distinction between justice and charity. Charity is direct service, and justice looks at systemic change.
“I was face to face with the struggles that many endure as a result of homelessness and deportation. Based on these experiences, they made me want to become a voice for the ones that were forced to be silent or whose cries and concerns were overlooked based on their appearance,” said Whitney Jones ’19, who is a marketing major and participated in the D.C. and San Francisco trips.
The College’s Mission
In 2006, after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, students engaged in efforts to support people trying to re-establish their homes in the devastated Lower Ninth Ward. More than 10 years later, students still return to New Orleans with more work to do.
Joan Horgan, director of campus ministry, said students realize a person’s financial status impacts how much access they have to support services in the aftermath of an environmental disaster.
“In NOLA, helping to rebuild a community struck by disaster so many years ago immersed me in devastating poverty people in our country face on a daily basis and the commitment it takes to rebuild lives destroyed by natural disaster,” said Terry.
Discovering new cultures
Peters said students also learn people can be content without an abundance of material goods. The Guatemala service trip exposes them to poverty in the developing world. Students then start to understand poverty on a global scale and how it limits life choices.
In 2013, students started volunteering at a school in Jocotenango, just north of Antigua, as well as build stoves for those in rural areas, and visit with Guatemalans who are in an AIDS hospice.
“Although this is the longest service trip available. I feel like I still would have so much to learn by visiting again,” said Scott. “In such a short period of time, we were exposed to a completely different climate, culture, government/economy, geography.”