Webster's Dictionary defines "service" as "the act of serving, helping, assisting." But, as students from Nardin Academy found, this simple definition does not fully capture the true essence of community service. During their February break, 19 girls and five chaperones from Nardin Academy's high school division traveled to Cincinnati to spend the week working on service projects.
The students chose to work with a new organization each day during their stay with the Franciscans for the Poor, who coordinated all of the service opportunities. Projects varied, so everyone was able to find something that interested them. The participants volunteered at a nursery designed for young children with teenage parents, renovated homes, did yard work and worked in a food pantry, just to name a few of the tasks.
Joanna Weymouth, a junior who went on the mission trip, said her favorite service project involved working at a sandwich window. In this project, needy and homeless people line up outside of a window where volunteers hand out sandwiches along with a bag of snacks like fruit, granola bars and chips.
When asked about this project, Joanna recalled, "Handing out food and seeing the recipients' gratitude made me feel like I was making a difference in somebody's life."
In some cases, like at the sandwich window or in the food pantry where the girls acted as shopping assistants, the students could see the direct impact of the work they did. In others, they came to understand the massive amount of work that goes on behind the scenes in order to make each charity successful. However, regardless of the situation, they quickly realized that every action counts. Even though spending three hours folding white shirts may seem like an insignificant task, it is necessary because that very clothing will be distributed throughout the world.
Not only did they learn from the work they did, but the girls also learned from the more experienced volunteers they encountered. Students met men and women who have devoted their lives to helping others. By having the chance to work with these community activists, like the retired scientist who makes soup at the sandwich window and the priest who often makes lunch for volunteers at a home renovation project, the students were able to reflect on the role of service in their own lives as they transition into adulthood.
Senior Meg Locey, who chose to come on the trip for the second year in a row, enjoyed working with an "organization that helps women who have small children and babies get clothes, formula, toys, car seats and other things that a new mom needs." She found the Franciscan nuns who ran the charity to be particularly memorable. She added, "They were so proud of the work they do and loved talking to us and answering our questions about the lives they chose to live."
The mission trip quickly turned into more than just the chance to do service; it became a journey. The students discovered more about themselves and those around them. Although many of the students did not know each other very well at the beginning of the trip, they grew close by the end of the week. Aside from working together while volunteering, they spent time playing board and card games, especially since they were encouraged to put away their cell phones and electronics for the week.
Most importantly, the trip allowed them the invaluable opportunity of taking on a new perspective.
Meg believes her perspective has changed after spending time in Cincinnati.
"I realized that every single thing I do each day impacts a person in [an] extreme way," she said. "So instead of moping around all day, I should make sure to smile more, say hi to people more and genuinely ask people how their day is going. These simple acts of respect and kindness will definitely [be] noticed and appreciated by people."
Similarly, Joanna strives to apply the lessons she learned on the trip to her life now that she has returned to Buffalo. She said, "I have learned not to judge people based on first impressions, and to smile and treat everyone with respect."
Overall, both Joanna and Meg agree that high school students should take advantage of an opportunity to go on a mission trip.
"It is so life-changing," Meg said. "I would tell them to keep an open mind when they go and to put [their] all into the work that they do. The more you put into the experience, the more you get out of it.".
Stephanie Neville is a junior at Nardin Academy.