Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Closing the blog

Good afternoon everyone,

This is Fr. Bill making the final blog post.

What a wonderful experience we have shared.  While a few people knew each other at the beginning of the trip and a couple were friends, I think that it is very safe to say that the relationships formed on this trip surprised everyone.  There is a depth that can only be reached when we take ourselves away from our homes and go out on the pilgrims' path together.

Thank you to our loyal readers and all who followed along side us through this blog. Your prayers and encouragement were sustaining to us.

Thank you to all who contributed to our crowd funding.  We were able to make contributions to the Kenwood United Church of Christ, St. Ambrose Parish, Bettendorf House, St. Benedict the Moor parish and most of all we were able to fund the foundation piece to St. Benedict the Moor School's new playground.

My personal thanks to our students for their enthusiastic participation and willingness to enter into the ambiguity of the Spirit.

And special thanks to Beth, our student leader, and Maggie, our graduate assistant, for going above and beyond all expectations.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

The kids are all grown up, and headed home!

It is our final night together and our newly formed friend-family is feeling a bit sentimental and sad to leave one another and our spring break bubble. Over the past week we have gone from near strangers to close friends and we all hope these bonds last, not just through the end of the school year but long into our lives. While we cannot possibly spend every minute together when we are back on campus, the lessons we learned this week will ever with us forever. 

These "kids" have once again renewed my faith in my fellow man by showing me, not just through words but through their actions and compassion, that the future is filled with hope. And love. 

Thank you, loyal blog readers, for sharing your loved ones. Not only with me, but with the world. 

All the best, 
"Grandma" Mags

A Fuller Heart!

Beth here! When faced with the task of reflecting on this week, I think that much of how I feel has been expressed already by my fellow mission trip friends. However, I have chosen to talk a little about something else I realized. I have been on 3 CCME's now and I have to say that the people on this trip have really inspired me and have made this week so enjoyable. Even so much so to the point where I really dread going to bed tonight and waking up to leave tomorrow. With such a small group we were really able to become a family. From singing in the car to BeyoncĂ© to cooking together every night as a family. I am not a cook so I really haven't had this many good meals while at school for a long time. I came into this trip only knowing Fr. Bill and Nick and I have come out with so many more friends who I know are going to change the world. It's really inspiring to be around these people. I treasure the motivation and comfort these people have given me. I hope to carry their enthusiasm and positive attitudes with me throughout the next phase of my life. I look forward to engaging more in the community through getting my Masters in Social Work and getting to work in my community in Pittsburgh. I'll never forget these guys!

It's been a wild, wild ride.

Wow, I can't believe that the last ten days have gone by as fast as they have. All of the planning and information leading up to this trip couldn't have even prepared me for this experience. I came on this trip with eight strangers and now I am leaving with eight friends. I was probably the outcast on this trip being non-Catholic and never completing a service opportunity in my life, but I can honestly say that this trip has opened my eyes to so many things. It has showed me that stepping out of your comfort zone is the real way to live life; I've been to more Catholic masses in the past week and a half than I have in my entire life, I tried perogies, Chicago deep dish pizza, and I've have made some pretty successful desserts (I like to think, anyways.) But I think the most memorable moments from this trip came from learning how to open my eyes to things and take a second to breathe everything in. James and Ernest in Chicago were so thankful just to have us there to lend a hand to providing people with food who couldn't afford to themselves. Doing maintenance at the harm reduction center showed me that even doing what we consider to be little, minute things allow time for people to focus on the more important things that need to be done. Going through neighborhoods with broken windows and boarded up doors has showed me to appreciate my hometown and the life I have grown up and have been blessed enough to have. It didn't stop in Chicago though. Even here in Dayton, I witnessed the pure joy of the children of St. Benedict the Moor who finally had us to practice their multiplication tables with and to play with them in gym class. All of these moments taught me so much more about myself than I ever assumed to be possible on this trip. It is quite true that had I not stepped out of my comfort zone, I would have probably been spending the last week on my couch at home binge watching the Food Network or MTV. But also, if I had not come on this trip, I would not have met the eight wonderful people who have helped me recognize the importance of the little things and friendship and helping others with what we were blessed with in order to make even the slightest difference. So to you, the blog viewers, I wanna say thank you for your donations, your support, and your encouragement throughout this trip. And to Father Bill, Maggie, Allison, Gigi, Kayla, Chelsea, Beth, and Nick: thank you for helping me step out of what I have considered to be comfortable and thank you for making the past week and a half so memorable, pleasurable, and enjoyable. I wouldn't have wanted to experience this trip with anyone else. So, as we close out the week with mass tomorrow at St. Benedict the Moor before we head off back to our busy lives at Duquesne, I ask you all to take a moment and appreciate the little things. We are truthfully so blessed and it's amazing how much of a difference you can make in someone's life with something as small as raking leaves or playing kids scooters and parachutes. Thanks for following my experience as well as everyone else's. I know that this trip is one I will remember. 

All the best,
Miranda Lowery

Communities Equal Love!

This mission trip has been one of the most memorable experiences of my life. We are all so blessed to be able to experience memories like this. God granted us with hands to help those in need. From a Spiritan view, we are called to help those who are in need and marginalized. I can truly say that we have definitely shown that help through the communities we helped serve this past week. Starting the trip, we all began as friendly faces we passed along on A-Walk, and now we are leaving as a family. The communities we served helped bring us together. Starting off the trip in Chicago, we assisted at an HIV rehab center and a soup kitchen. I honestly cannot tell you what my favorite part was in Chicago. I loved helping their community, lending them a helping hand, and giving them a break from their everyday lives. Moving on to Dayton, we began working within the school right away! This was my dream come true sense I am an Early Childhood Education major. The smile on all of these students' faces was heartwarming. These students were all so sweet, smart, and so much fun! I enjoyed every second I spent within the school. I was so thrilled to find out we were helping with these students. Some of these students go home every day and go home to no one, busy parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc. I felt so blessed to be able to spend time and lend a helping hand to these students. There was a fellowship with these students as we all helped them study for their state tests, and have fun and play games during their breaks. This made me want to become a teacher even more. I cannot wait to be in a classroom with students just like them and give them a lending hand, a smiling face, and arms wide open awaiting a hug! Overall, I had an amazing experience on this Urban Plunge Mission Trip in Chicago and Dayton! Yes we helped the communities, but personally, I believe that the communities helped us more. They taught us all about what a sense of community, how community means family, and how we do not need a lot of things in our life in order to be happy. Less is more and we are all blessed with the communities we grew up in, our campus community at Duquesne and the communities we meet on experiences such as this. Therefore I leave you with one last note, cherish everything you have in your life, we are truly blessed with the lives God granted us, therefore let us open up and share our skills with those around us and learn about new communities and love all of God's gifts! It's been real and thanks for following along with us on our memorable experience! Xoxo, Allison

We are Family!

Throughout the missions trip, everyone learned something new about service, the communities we visited, and ourselves.  The strongest impact of the trip and greatest aspect was the sense of community. Whether it was community with the people we met or the people in our own houses, we learned about both culture and teamwork.  One of my favorite moments was last night at St Benedict the Moor when we spoke with some of the members of the church and the local president of the NAACP. Though we had little personal experience with some of their customs, they had us all laughing hysterically with the stories they told.  We grew in faith and relationships as new stories about Spiritans and the church arose.  My favorite memory with the group in the trip came from the meals we cooked and cleaned up together. Each day, we learned new stories about each other's homes and family traditions. We danced to the different music tastes of each person and learned to work as a team (and even some new cooking skills). Though much of the missions work we did was just temporary, we cleared some time for many of the community members to work on the projects that they are here for in the long term. Through service, faith, and love, we became a family. We learned to live in the moment and appreciate the different stories of our new friends in Chicago and Dayton. Until next time,

Focus on the now

Greetings from Gigi! There are too many moments in this mission trip to pinpoint one that describes our entitre experience. But this mission had taught and re-taught me some values in life that I intend and will try to keep with me for the years to come. It had made me come to realize concepts within and without the mission. One of them that stood out the most was to appreciate and live in the moment. Before the mission trip I thought we would be making more long-term impacts on the lives surrounding us, and we did but I loved how much we really focused on making a difference right now, right here. From the lovely people at the soup kitchen in Chicago to the loving students at St Benedict the Moor, they all taught me to appreciate the little moments in time; because in a way we did impact their future by influecing their present. The moments that were caught during this mission were also when there was a brief drive around the neighborhood of the school, it was clearly a neighborhood that was once thriving. As we drove around the blocks most of the houses were run down, borded up, caved in, with graffiti writing on several of them. It all seemed like a broken dream. It made me wonder how this town had reached this point and how it was once was. But then I remembered the enthusiasm and love the students had shown all of us and it absolutely warmed my heart that despite how little they had, in a way they did have everything. The morals, values, curiosity, intelligence, ambition, and the amount of the love they have to share will take them so far. So my point is not only to dwell on the past or feel rushed to see where the future takes you, but to really take in the moments happening right now and take the most out of them, and appreciate the people you have in your life without worrying if they'll stay, because they will always be a part of your history either way. So focus on the little things now and then, and stay gold. 

Friday, March 4, 2016

Friday Friday Friday

Hi Blog Readers -

St. Benedict the Moor School was closed today as the teachers had an in service day.  So we offered our help to the parish community. We headed over to the Parish hall first and left three of the group to help with the Friday Fish Fry.

Gigi, Chelsea and Beth in the kitchen

The fish fry at the parish is run by the Knights of St. Peter Claver and the Women's Auxiliary.  On the menu was Whiting or Talapia fish with baked beans, coleslaw and French fries and a huge selection of home baked cakes.  Beth, Chelsea and Gigi leaned the secrets of the fish batter spices but have sworn not to tell.

In the Church Beth and Allison took over the vacuuming while Kayla and Fr. Bill did the windows.  Maggie tackled the sacristy and took it upon herself to save some very wilted plants that needed to be trimmed and pampered.

Allison loves to vacuum.

Beth joined in the vacuum duties 

Gigi came over when the cooking slowed down and helped vacuum the pews

Chelsea took over the mopping from Maggie 

Loyal blog followers will see that Miranda isn't pictured today.  She wasn't feeling well and went back to the house early.  However, she rallied later in the afternoon to take on a Pinterest inspired dessert recipe and whipped up some edible cookie dough stuffed chocolate covered brownies.

We FaceTimed Nick during dessert so he could still be with us on the mission trip even though he was already back in Pittsburgh.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

A Full Day at School

Greetings from Dayton, lovely blog readers! Chelsea here. Some of us are just now getting back from our first full day of school in a very, very long time. An 8:30 start to the school day may make us college kids cringe, but these kids at St. Benedict the Moor elementary school are rock stars - they start every day at 7:50 (and some arrive even earlier than that) while most of us here are still fast asleep. 

That's not to say we haven't done quite a bit of work these past couple days though; those elementary school teachers sure have kept us busy! Grading math tests, correcting reading assignments, instructing small reading and math groups, playing cops and robbers in preschool, building castles in gym class, and teaching third graders the basics of feminism are just the tip of the iceberg. And yet, after seeing everything these teachers do themselves for their students, in and out of school, our contribution pales in comparison. A teacher who runs after-care was simultaneously trying to complete a half dozen different tasks and running around so frantically that she was literally out of breath. Asking to grade her stack of papers seemed like the least we could do, and she seemed quite relieved to have this additional item off her to-do list. The dedication, patience, and selflessness these teachers display almost every minute of their day is truly inspiring, and I hope to one day take up my career with as much passion as they do.

After a long week, the kids at school have reinvigorated our spirits, but simultaneously drained almost all our remaining energy. Supervising children is a notoriously difficult yet rewarding task. Children have a special knack for getting on our nerves sometimes, don't they? But somehow, at least in my case, children have a special knack for turning us into better versions of ourselves. I wouldn't consider myself a patient or silly person by any standards, but being around kids tends to illuminate the calm, fun, selfless nature in all of us, as only the simplicity of a child can. 

Some of the kids are much less well-behaved than their peers for a variety of reasons; I discovered yesterday that the school day was lengthened by a full hour this year, and being in school for at least eight hours a day takes a toll on many of the young students. Many have difficult home lives and suffer from food insecurity. A few are even almost a full year behind their peers in their curriculum, and despite the best efforts of the teachers and principal, little progress has been made. However, amazing things are still being done every day to provide these sunny children with the best education they can receive, and it feels good to know that our couple hours of tutoring after school are a small part of that. The school's dedication to its students and the children's incredible faith in God have truly touched me these past couple days. Being here at St. Benedict the Moor school has been an absolute privilege, and the rewarding feeling I left with today will carry on for the remainder of our trip. 

Speaking of... Only three more days until we're headed back to Pittsburgh! More updates will follow, so stay tuned!


Breaking up the band.

Good morning blog followers.  

Today Nick had to fly back to Pittsburgh for a job interview.  While everyone is very understanding of his situation it does leave a void in the group and Nick has even entertained the impractical idea of flying back on Saturday just to be with us for Sunday mass and the return journey to Duquesne.  This desire to be with the group is part of the "magic" of the mission trip.

The intensity of the friendships formed on the mission trip isn't an accident.  More than one person on the trip has admitted to being apprehensive before we left because they didn't know too many people going.  However, by the time we return to campus they can't imagine not waking up in the next sleeping bag to their new friends.

Pilgrimages, quests, road trips, and family vacations all have the common thread of being times of bonding.  We leave our familiar environment and enter into the unknown - new places, new people, new experiences - and our home base (our comfort zone) becomes each other.  As we enter the strange and the new we become more reliant on the known and on this trip the known is the group.

Nick having to leave is the first break in the bonded group, an early reminder of what will happen on Sunday evening when we get back to campus.  We all understand that he will be waiting for us at the Chapel back at Duquesne when we get out of the vans and offer our prayer of thanksgiving.  Still, it's not the same.  We are still in the "different" and he is part of our "familiar".

Nick, good luck with the job interview.  But know that you are missed.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Cupcake bonanza

Hey cherished blog viewers, Gigi and Miranda here. As you know we finally made it into Dayton after five hours in the vehicle, a stop at Chick-fil-a as previously mentioned, and even a time zone change. The best part undoubtedly came from dinner. The more we are on our trip, the more we are able to observe the things around us. From the short time we spent in St. Benedict the Moor's school before we were beckoned to go shopping for dinner, we noticed how grateful these kids were just to have us as visitors. It's easy to get caught up in every day life, but just seeing these kids smile from getting homework help or something as simple as gym toys and the promise of a playground, it goes to show that we do really take the little things for granted. In order to keep the good spirit of the day going, comfort food that reminded us of home and raspberry filled cupcakes were DEFINITELY to end the day. However, the ambience team of Allie, Nick and Kayla could only find birthday napkins at their disposal, so we needed cause for celebration to fit the theme. It was determined that since my birthday was closest (April), the celebration was my fake birthday. With praise of Gigi, Father Bill and I's cooking and meticulously decorated cupcakes from Gigi and I in the books, we ended the night with the gang singing me Happy Birthday-well, faux-birthday according to Chelsea. I must say, it was overall quite a satisfying day just because of the little things. We are up early tomorrow to spend our first full day in Dayton with the kids at the school. More updates to come, internet friends..but my last piece of advice-don't forget the little things. 


School is in Session!

Tuesday night concluded with a nice bonding experience/group viewing experience of episodes 3 and 4 of "The Fuller House". Morning came quickly and we hit the road by 8am. After a 4.5 hour drive with a short but efficient stop at Miranda's Favorite, Chick-Fil-A , we had arrived in Dayton.

After arriving at St.Benedict the Moor School, Mrs.Pitts, the Principal, introduced us to all the students and staff. It's a very intimate school with only grades preschool to 3rd grade and 59 students. These kids were amazing! They were so welcoming toward us and just couldn't wait to get to know us. We split up between the different classes and hung out at the after school program till 5:30pm. We all worked with the kids on howework and specifically improving their reading and math comprehension. Afterward some of us were able to relax and play a rowdy game of Uno. We are pretty excited to return tomorrow.
Beth Sheridan 

A recipe for success: friends, food, and fun!

Building relationships with the members and community partners of the Spiritan parishes we are working with in Chicago and Dayton is an essential part of our mission this spring break.  But, equally important is building a community amongst ourselves and strengthening our Duquesne community. 

In addition to our daily service projects, we have been busy making three very important things: friends, food, and fun!  

In preparation for the trip, we had four group meetings which were heavy on logistics and information about the communities we will be working in. Now, we have all spent four whole days together--that's 96 hours! Nick says this is the most time he has spent surrounded by so many women and the "what?" moments just keep coming!!  Last night the crew went to an improv show at iO (improv Olympic) and had a great time--and an extra large dessert to wind down after!

Each night a different group has teamed up to make a special meal of their choice. Cooking has been a real treat for those still living in the dorms, and picking the meal AND dessert an even larger luxury. Tonight, Gigi, Miranda, and Father Bill are hard at work making Miranda's mom's special chicken and noodles with buttery mashed potatoes. Raspberry filled chocolate cupcakes are on the menu for dessert, and we have been promised they will not only be delicious but beautiful!

This evening we are already plotting to play mafia, uno and ninja. Stay tuned! 

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

It's not a mission trip until you've painted something

The group was told to bring clothes you can paint in because a mission trip isn't complete without a paint brush in your hands.

Chelsea, Gigi, Kayla, Nick, Beth and Maggie went over to the church and painted the corridor leading back to the sacristy and choir room.  The life lesson learned was Per Painting Proper Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance.  The crew washed, dusted and taped the area before painting and found the prep time took almost as long as the actual painting.  But the results were outstanding.

Tuesday - Back to ministry

Tuesday we woke up to a frosty morning of freezing rain and a mad search for windshield scrapers in our rental vans (there were none) and a good job improvised ice removal.  We switched ministry placement with the group that went to the soup kitchen going to the Alexian Brothers home and the group that did the yard work for the Brothers' going over to help Ernest in the kitchen.

Gigi and Kayla were helping to clean the Risk Reduction Center, getting an empty room ready for a new occupant.  While Chelsea and Maggie cleaned stairwells and elevators.


Miranda, Allison, Beth and Nick helped out in the soup kitchen.  They joined James and Enrest and a group of volunteers from Mt. Carmel High School.  Learning from yesterday's team, they let the high school boys do the piles of onions while they did the salad, fruit and soup for the lunch.

The group was in time to serve both breakfast and lunch to the guests at Kenwood United Church of Christ.

There is nothing that offends Fr. Bill like a dull knife.  He wasn't at the soup kitchen long but dedicated his effort to sharpening the box of knives and staying out of everybody's way.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Nick Cleans Up

Let's get real here team, Chicago is quite the destination. So many places to see and people to meet, it can be incredibly overwhelming at times. After spending time downtown yesterday, as well as some in our group having their first experiences with true Chicago-style deep dish pizza, we barely even scratched the surface of what this city has to offer. But let's pull back the layer of luxuries and observe the reality of the community we are committed to serving while we continue our time here. 

Today I had the pleasure of traveling with my friends Fr. Bill, Allison, Miranda, and Beth to rake the leaves at a Harm Reduction Facility for those that have HIV. Yes, you heard that right, we raked leaves. Although this seems like a simple task, the people we interacted with is what truly made the day. Being in this low-income area, with rival gangs just around the corner, our little adventure was a lot more than just raking leaves. It was about serving a group of people who are in a tough situation. Even something as simple as raking leaves can make make a difference. Yes, the lawn is neater. And yes, nobody else now has to take the time out of their day to complete such tasks. But was this really about raking leaves? No. This was about being there. This was clearly seen by the enthusiasm and sincerity of whom we serve. So let's get real here, Chicago is quite the place to rake leaves.

All the best,

Nick Hudak

Monday Afternoon Back at St Ambrose

After getting back from their ministry sites our group again split up to tackle more tasks.  Half were on the cooking crew in service to our own selves and half went over to the Church to be of service to our hosts.

Gigi and Chelsea were our chief chefs and got to work on lasagne while Miranda jumped in for the pudding mix and garlic bread.

Kayla was in charge of the fruit and went to work on the pineapple while Chelsea cheered her on.

Nick, Beth and Allison took on the job of steam cleaning the chairs in the Church.  This job was on the parish's "wish list" for quite a while and they were able to knock the job out in 2 1/2 hours of hard work.

Monday at Ministry Sites

Happy Leap Day everyone. Allison's mom sent us all a message this morning saying that today was a "bonus day" and we were all to try something new on this bonus day so off we went to our ministry sites for the day.

Half the group went to the Kenwood United Church of Christ to help in the soup kitchen. 

They worked with Ernest in the kitchen and served breakfast to the guests before they were put on the chopping line.  They had to chop donated peppers and onions and bag them for the freezer for future use.  The peppers were the easy part of the day but the onions were the the real test.  In fact, the onion vapors got so bad they had to step out for breathers before heading back in for another round of chopping.  

Maggie, Gigi, Chelsea and Kayla then got the great idea to ask if they had a fan in the kitchen and ventilation was restored and onions got chopped.


Fr. Bill took Nick, Allison, Beth and Miranda to the Alexian Brother's AIDS Ministry house in South Chicago.  We were expecting to help paint but the maintenance person couldn't make it so we were asked to work outside cleaning the grounds.

It was cold and windy but the crew had a good sense of humour and attracted the job.  Nick is getting ready for a job interview back in Pittsburgh so the others decided to hold mock interview questions to get him ready.

We needed a treat for lunch so we went to the Mexican grocery store to pick up some fruit and were pleased to see so much tropical produce.

We feasted on ripe mangos for lunch.