Home Again

After a beautiful mass and a quick selfie with Fr. Honest, we packed up the mom van (Trout) and massively FBI like Suburban (Chicken) and headed back to Pittsburgh. We are happy to say we all returned home safely and are beyond thankful for all of the experiences we shared in community this week!🧡

Many eons ago…

Many eons ago,

I sat silent in a van heading to Pittsburgh International Airport, mentally prepared for a lackluster week of “explorations” and “service” with a loose group of college students I didn’t know and would never see again after mid-March.

I never believed such a vibrant, engaging, meaningful series of experiences could be contained within a single week. I could write about any number of topics: that first night, when we bonded over a game and anxiously joked about living in an unfurnished house; about volunteering at Habitat for Humanity, where I helped build a house and met a man who drives an hour every day to make it to the worksite before dawn, whose only reason for giving up his time and resources being that “you should give back to your community”; an astounding conversation I had about social justice with one longtime volunteer at the CIW; my awe at Guadalupe Social Services quality and quality of services: showers and changes of clothes for homeless individuals, a food pantry, stroller drives, clothing collections…

Poverty devastates those who suffer it. I know this from personal experience, but that lesson is so encompassing and prevalent here in Immokalee.

Maria, whose hurricane-decimated trailer we helped deal with earlier this week, is one example. She has obviously suffered much greater problems than me. Over the course of her life, she’s worked as a farmworker and a packing house employee in, until recently, one of the most oppressive work environments in the U.S. Her life and the lives of those closest to her has been shaped by the most horrendous and inescapable of circumstances: child marriage, natural disaster, homelessness, drug addiction.

My own experiences with poverty obviously pale in comparison, but I understand the limitations induced by lack of money creates a festering frustration unique to the poor. When I was younger, my own family struggled with poverty. My entire life became an exhausting, constantly-evolving strategy: how can I reach my full potential, when every opportunity I want to pursue costs money that I don’t have? There is no margin of error. Each opportunity that I might pursue requires so much more risk and therefore so much more dedication for me than it would for my peers.

Poverty is a jealous beast. It alienates those who suffer it from those who don’t, and often derogatizes the former. The incredible thing about Immokalee is that its people used gratitude and determination to combat this effect. With gratitude and determination, Maria is consciously deciding to let go of her old house and build a new home with her loved ones. With gratitude and determination, CIW will soon march in New York and fight to secure their basic rights and some security. With gratitude and determination, I aspire to use what I’ve learned this week and make a difference in my own community in Pittsburgh once I return and, in a wider context, the world.

The mission trip has given me so much information and motivation to take back to Pittsburgh about the CIW specifically and new perspectives on humanity in general.

But what I’m most moved by tonight are the people who also embarked on this CCME. I never would have crossed paths with, let alone befriended, these individuals at Duquesne. In the past week, I’ve bonded with utter strangers over miracle-berries, Catholic mass, group lays, haikus, mangoes, paper-maché, and numerous deep, philosophical debates. These are people with whom I once shared literally nothing. Our respective upbringings were completely different, as are many of our beliefs, ambitions, and lives. Despite this, we have all grown so close to each another. I know some of my companions’ most intimate problems and feelings, as they know mine. They’ve taught me more about presence, patience, faith, engagement, relationships. Hopefully, I’ve reciprocated with some valuable lessons of my own. We are, astoundingly, all the better for having known each other. Thanks to CCME, I have formed relationships that will last forever.

– Sairah

Last Day at Home

Tonight is our last night in Immokalee, Florida. Today was supposed to be our beach day, but sadly, we got rained out. That didn’t stop us from having a great last day. When we came home, all 10 of us took our sleeping bags and piled into the smallest room in the house for a group nap. I can now say I’ve never been closer to the group until this afternoon. When we woke up, we all joined our leaders to cook an AMAZING last supper. After dinner, we went to mass at Our Lady of Guadalupe. Then we ended our night at Mi Ranchito for one last round of ice cream.

As I am writing my blog post for the night, I am looking around at my new family cleaning the house and packing up for our very early flight tomorrow morning. It’s amazing to see how close these twelve strangers became in such a short amount of time. I think back to how this trip started off.

Our first night here was very eventful. We entered a house with no power and no appliances. As our “parents” left to find us a new home, we sat on the floor in the barely lit kitchen and played a game while we waited. From then on, the rest was history.

Each day, we grew closer working together to help the community of Immokalee. Whether it was papier-mâchéing at the CIW, building houses at Habitat for Humanity, or serving meals at Guadalupe Social Services, everyone was working hard and connecting with not just the group, but the community. Every member of the community that we interacted with has been so kind to us. We made so many memories. We will never forget Natalia, Violetta, Silvia and the other amazing volunteers and members at the CIW. We will never forget Peggy and the loving members at Guadalupe Social Services. And we will never forget Maria and Chico.

After we finished up cleaning, the group went next door to donate our leftover food that we did not finish in our short time here. Now we’re ending the night how we started, together in the living room playing the game that started our journey here. I am so thankful to be with a group of such loving and selfless people. As a student leader, I could not be prouder. Thank you everyone for making this trip such a wonderful experience.

– Gabby

Finally Finished the Library

The Library is finished. Amen.

The original plan was to go to the Air Force Museum in the morning and to return to finish the Library later but such was the the groups’ determination that the schedule got flipped and work was placed before play. We got over to the school and cranked the Bluetooth speaker and went to work. Where did more boxes of books come from? Had they multiplied overnight?

The last sorting was done and the books went on the shelves. The best sound of the morning was the sound of the sweeper (vacuum for the non yinzers) being run and the trash being taken out to the dumpster.

Jasmine with “Fred”

Back Row: Kenny, Irene, Bridget, Rachael, Neena, Grant, Megan, Kayla

Front Row: Sydney, Rachel, Alison, Jasmine, Jordan

After a quick lunch we all packed into the cars for a short drive to the National Museum of the Air Force. The museum is made up of five large hangers holding thousands of planes both on the ground and suspended from the ceiling. The first hanger has early Wright Brothers planes sold to the Army and the development of aircraft through World War I. The second hanger has aircraft from World War II and early jet airplane designs.

P 40 from the Pacific Theater, WWII

The third hanger housed aircraft from both Korea and Vietnam wars. The fourth and smallest hanger holds replicas of the US nuclear missal arsenal. Lastly, the fifth hanger displays airplanes used in the Gulf War and some of the Presidential planes including the plane that carried John F Kennedy’s body back from Dallas and on which Lindon B Johnson took the oath of office.

Bridget, Rachael and Kayla exit an early version of Air Force One used during the Eisenhower administration

Finally we returned home to find Fr Francis cooking Ghanaian jolof rice and and chicken which was quite delicious. Now we are sitting down for a game of Four On A Couch.

It was a very good day.

Stations of the Cross- St. Gregory Church

March 10, 2018

Yesterday evening our group had the privilege of experiencing the Stations of the Cross with the wonderful parishioners at St. Gregory’s Parish. From your first step into the church, a sense of welcome washes over you. I hadn’t been inside even a full minute and several people welcomed me to the church and asked how I was doing. It was when I walked into the main body of the church that I realized that members from several parishes around the area, including St. Edward’s, had gathered to share in the experience of Stations of the Cross. The stations at St. Gregory were not in the same format that I was used to growing up my entire life. Instead of the priest going around and doing the readings for every station, members of the church said the readings. Doing them this way imbued a sense of solidarity among the members of the separate parishes that many church communities are missing in society today.

A lesson in community could be learned from the parishes here in Baltimore. After Stations, the parishioners did not go their separate ways, rather they gathered in a room to share a meal together and discuss what it means to live out the Catholic faith. One of the highlights of the discussion was when a parishioner pointed out that just going to church on Sunday was not all we were called to do as a Christians. We are called to be in community with each other, it is through community that we best feel God’s love and can live.

Another highlight of the night was a one-on-one conversation from Father François Kodena. I had several questions about what life was like as a Spiritan Priest, so he took me into his office to have a dialogue. During the course of the conversation I asked several questions, one of which was if he ever felt lonely during his travels. He smiled and gave the perfect answer. He said that loneliness is felt when we try to separate ourselves from our communities. If we actively participate in each other’s lives, help each other, lift each other up, and love each other, it’s impossible to be lonely. He then talked about how wealth is another reason people experience loneliness. To focus on material wealth will leave you empty, because real wealth is found in humanity. To quote Father directly “The day we die, we become immortal through the people we have met.” With all this mind, I think the Parishes of St. Edward’s and St. Gregory’s are the wealthiest churches I’ve ever set my eyes upon.



Lunch Buddies and Dance Buddies

Today may be one of the few days a group of college students were hoping that school would be in full swing. All of us were very much excited to spend time with the students of St. Benedict the Moor school. We were able to spend lunch with them and have really wonderful conversations. We talked about everything from favorite sports and video games to if they had bunk beds. Really, we mostly listened. They taught us a lot, like how to do our hair and how to dance.

Neena learning how to do her hair

After lunch, we worked more on the library we are setting up in the school. We unpacked all the books we placed yesterday and repacked them onto the same shelves, which we moved across the room. The task of the library seems daunting but we are chipping away at it, hammer by hammer.

After the school day, we went over to St. Benedict the Moor parish to assist with the Lenten Fish Fry and to get to know the parishioners there. Kayla was a SUPERSTAR today and jumped right in to cook and serve. We were able to hear the story from Emmet, a Dayton native, and learned the history of the parish from Fr. Francis. St. Benedict the Moor was a new building after three Dayton parishes merged together. The goal was to create a church that represented the black Catholic community and it was executed very well. The church is beautiful and the community exceeds that.

Kayla “Super Star” of the kitchen

The patron saint of the parish- St. Benedict the Moor

In the words of Jasmine, “today had one shallow pit, but many high peaks.”


Immokalee Child Care Center

One of the reasons why going to Immokalee for my cross cultural mission trip was so amazing is the fact that my great grandmother helped create a childcare center for the migrant farm workers. We went to visit the center today. Joe and I went in, I told them who I was, and one of the desk ladies took us on a tour. We saw all of the classrooms, it was such a nice facility. It was clean and had artwork hanging everywhere. Then we went to the playground and a bunch of 4-5 year olds ran up to Joe and me and asked us to play. We played duck duck goose and tag and talked with all of the kids. It was truly amazing and I definitely felt my great grandmother’s presence. I loved seeing how her hard work and and ideas grew into a beautiful center that helps so many people more than 50 years later.

– Julianna


After a delicious family style dinner and a quick run to get a tasty treat (thanks mom and dad) I write to reflect on the day.

Six of us awoke in the early hours of the day to help our friends at Habitat for Humanity trim and paint some of the new houses built solely by the hands of volunteers, AMAZING! As Leah and I stood in one of the houses painting closet doors and jamming to classic rock (s/o to my dad for my taste in his music), I realized at that single moment in time that the surrounding Immokalee community, who have been nothing but warm and loving and who have so generously welcomed us into their community, was that of the many layers of white paint on those closet doors that we were painting. To think that this incredible organization and its corresponding movement originally started when 6 farmworkers met in the basement of a church after spending long hours in the field and has now grown into such an incredible organization is absolutely breathtaking. I have goosebumps thinking of it now. During one of our first visits to the CIW, I remember noting something so incredible. Not only were they composed of such strong farmworkers, both male and female, they also had such a strong sense of community and anything one felt the whole community felt. Like that of the painted closest, this welcoming community isn’t finished with just one layer though; it’s many more layers and continues to get painted with many layers as generations go by.

Eventually we met the other six members of our small (but mighty) Immokalee family at a demolition site, where they spent the morning helping a woman, Maria, clean out her trailer home that was destroyed by the terrible effects of Hurricane Irma. I think I can say for our entire family that this was definitely an experience and had a meaningful impact on all of us. As we got out of both mini vans and proceeded to put on our working gloves and construction masks, we didn’t know what we were getting into. I personally wasn’t prepared for what I saw, how I would feel and how such a task could have such an impact on me. As I walked around the side of the trailer, I saw that the hurricane had completely wiped out the side of Maria’s house, leaving nothing but a fallen roof and a damaged couch on her unstable floor. Cautiously walking through the insides of what remained of her trailer, my heart ached as I held back tears with each step. This was someone’s home, where family and friends came together over food, drinks and each other presence to show their love for each other, where a family grew as a family and where a family struggled as a family. As I continued to walk through, I saw some pictures still hanging on the wall and as I picked up a small stuffed bear in the grass, my heart was truly hurting. This was Maria’s home, where she raised her grandson It breaks my heart to write “was” to you all in the sense that her home is no longer there.

It makes me really and truly appreciate everything that my God has given me in my 20 years of life. We are all so so SO incredibly fortunate that we have a home and that we have a place where we can gather amongst our friends and family to enjoy each other’s company. It pains me to think that something so terrible as this can happen and can damage a home and everything that a home brings. It makes me angry and sad and my heart hurts for not only Maria, but anyone who ever has to go through something as tragic as this. How can our God let such a tragedy tear her home apart and leave her with nothing? It isn’t fair.

After our group reflection back in the house after our taco dinner, I got to thinking. Yes I may be angry and sad that like Maria, many have lost their homes to such tragedies. But, I’m more hopeful in the sense that Maria is not alone. I think more of the fact that Maria is in such a wonderful and supportive and loving community that I know that she and her family will be alright. Like that of the painted closets, Maria is yet another layer painted to this wonderful community that has welcomed us in Immokalee. Maria has the love, support and prayers of those around her and is part of something that is incredible.

– Kara