By Jessica Able, Record Staff Writer
Last month, 56 seniors and 13 members of the faculty and staff from Assumption High School spent a week serving in Belize, Nicaragua, New Mexico, Indiana and Cincinnati.
The service trips were part of the school’s Mission Week in late February, an annual event in which classes are set aside and students spend their time engaging in acts of service — locally and abroad. And they attend events centered on culture and social justice.
Jennifer Buckman, a senior who was part of a group that served in urban Cincinnati, said Mission Week teaches students the importance of serving others.
“Assumption nurtures you to get involved in service,” she said, adding, Mission Week “kick starts living a life of service.”
Assumption’s Mission Week began eight years ago with the hope that students would explore, learn about and live the mission of Assumption High School, said Dr. Lisa Wieland, mission trip coordinator.
Wieland, who also teaches courses in English and journalism, explained that all students listen to guest speakers centered on the week’s theme, which for 2015 was “The Power of One.” Each grade level also focuses in a special way on an aspect of service.
Freshman are introduced to various parts of town they’ve never visited; sophomores spend extra time serving with agencies where they already volunteer; juniors also engage in extra days of service; and seniors have the option to take part in a local day of service, a senior retreat or a mission trip, Wieland said.
Anna Rucker, who worked at various locations in and around Albuquerque, N.M., during her mission trip, said she received more from the people she served than she gave.
“I wasn’t expecting the amount of gratitude and hospitality that they shared with us. You would have thought we built them a school, instead of just moving books,” Rucker said of her work at the St. Joseph Mission School in San Fidel, N.M.
Ahead of the service week, the students went through a discernment process in which they spent time contemplating the sacrifices they would make during the service trip, such as giving up electronics — including smart phones — for a week.
Following the discernment process, the students took part in a series of formation meetings designed to prepare them for the different types of service they might be performing. The formation process also gave them a chance to reflect on how the trip fit into the school’s four cornerstone principles — service, community, simple-living and prayer, Wieland explained.
Rucker also said it was important for students to remember this was not a vacation.
“Not everything we did was amazing, but you have to look at the bigger picture,” she said. “This wasn’t about me, this was about helping people and about what they need.”
Buckman said that through her work at various agencies in Cincinnati she learned to see the homeless as individuals and not as a collection of people. A phrase she learned to use while there was “a person experiencing homelessness,” rather than “a homeless person.”
One of the locations where Buckman worked, called New Life Furniture, provides furniture to individuals coming out of homeless shelters and other situations. That agency has inspired Buckman to consider bringing the concept home to Louisville.
“I’m already thinking of non-profits to contact,” she said. “We saw people sleeping on piles of clothes. … One lady was sleeping in her wheelchair.”
Kelly Wheeler, who also went on the Cincinnati trip, said that while she preferred acts of direct service, such as providing breakfast at the Ronald McDonald House, she learned the value of the work that happens behind the scenes as well.
“We also cleaned the whole place, which was not as fun, but was also beneficial,” she noted.
Olivia Polston, who worked in rural Indiana, said it was one thing to learn about service in theory, but an entirely different thing to practice it in real life and to “incorporate it into my life.”
Wieland said the aim of these service trips is to instill a sense of awareness. When the students return, things such as technology and events such as prom and spring break come into the forefront, she noted. But Wieland said she hopes the girls don’t forget the feelings they experienced on the trips.
“It doesn’t mean they need to dedicate their lives to direct service but I hope they never forget” what they experienced, she said.