Over 70 students and staff of Emmanuel College in Boston spent their spring break the week of March 8 ministering to those less fortunate throughout the United States. Some went to New Orleans to build houses for residents still homeless a full decade after Hurricane Katrina ripped through their city; some went to Phoenix to minister to the homeless; still others remained in Boston to work with the Greater Boston Food Bank and provide nutrition counseling to impoverished Bostonians.
"All of these mission trips will look at issues of hunger and homelessness, especially among the working poor," explained Deirdre Bradley-Turner, director of Community Service and Service Learning at Emmanuel College.
A graduate of the school herself, this is Bradley-Turner's 14th year coordinating the Alternative Spring Break (ASB) program, noting that although students "give up" their spring break in order to do works of mercy, the program "is quite popular."
"Our hope is that every student who wants to go can have the opportunity to go," she said. Students must apply during the fall semester, and decisions are announced just before Thanksgiving. In addition, each group is led by a group of staff members, as well as some "student leaders" -- students who have been on the mission trip before and now help lead the group.
"It is such a good experience, and a transformative experience as well," Bradley-Turner added.
Nicole LeDuc, a senior at Emmanuel College, could not agree more. Beginning her freshman year, LeDuc has been foregoing her spring breaks order to participate in the mission trip to Phoenix.
According to LeDuc, the group that travels to Phoenix splits their efforts: some work at a St. Vincent de Paul location; others go to the Andre House of Hospitality.
Founded in 1984 by two priests of the Holy Cross, the Andre House provides a host of services to the homeless and working poor in Phoenix, services such as showers, clean clothing, telephones, and a nightly dinner. Andre House often serves as many as 1,000 people per day.
After working a full day at their respective sites, the group meets at the Our Lady of Guadalupe Monastery -- their home for the week -- to share their experiences. Each night there is a different theme, which the student leaders help organize, and then there is a "faith-based reflection."
A native of Boylston, LeDuc said that these mission trips have helped her to see how fortunate she has been throughout her life.
"I didn't do anything to deserve my life, just as they didn't do anything to deserve theirs," she said.
"The ASB program has made me realize how important service is in everyday life," she said.
As she approaches her May graduation, LeDuc also feels that the alternative spring break trips have helped seal in her a desire to serve the underprivileged.
"No matter what my career will be," the biology major declared, "I want to make service a priority."
"Everyone needs a support system," she added. "Supporting other people is a privilege."