Chicago Dayton – A Day With Old Friends

We woke this morning to less than a half inch of snow. A skiff of snow. A few flurries. Nothing to be concerned with. That was until Dayton Public School District canceled school for the day. No Public School – no Public School buses. No buses, no school for St. Benedict the Moor School and a big change in plans for us.

The plan had been to work in the classrooms and to help with tutoring and lunch duty along with sorting and organizing the gym equipment and to organize a new school library, Ok, well, we’ll get to the gym and the library and have a shorter day, we all thought, Little did we know.

We started with the gym and it was a great time. We pulled out all the equipment and played a few games with the stuff while we were sorting and laying out where to but everything back. Last year’s group bought scooters for the School and this year’s crew were happy to check out if they were all in working order by playing scooter bumper cars. The balance rocker was a test of core strength and a few students vowed to spend more time at the Power Center back at Duquesne when the trip is over after uttering failing.

Bridget hoops the hoop

Kayla shows off core strength

We should have saved our energy.

The library kicked our butts. We unpacked., sorted, categorized and reshelved or stacked thousands and thousands of books. Picture books. Chapter books. Math books. Books about turtles or ponies or kittens or saber tooth tigers or any other topic every written about for elementary school students. Shelves of books, lockers of books, boxes of books, stacks of books and hidden stashes of books that seemed to appear out of thin air just as we though we had finished with a topic. It was hard, dusty, eye straining work.

But every few minutes there would be a cry from someone, “I loved this book.” Old friends, old friends, old books with memories and stories that we loved. And the chance to introduce St Benedict the Moor’s students to our old friends was truly a blessing.

Will You Be My Brussels Sprout? was a book Jordan wants to read

Meghan thought the title – Mother Please Don’t Die – was the most perfect title for a book

Sorted by age group and subject then alphabetized

Rachael was working on Black History and then Science

Irene and Sydney were in charge of picture books


We just had our nightly reflection, and Joe pointed out that there seems to be a reoccurring theme on our trip. Hope. We’ve seen a lot of not great situations with the work we’ve done and the people we’ve met down here, but there is always hope. Through the CIW (coalition of Immokalee Workers) we saw hope in everything they did. They’re fighting the fight for better working conditions with a happy face. We also met a women who’s trailer was condemned due to the hurricane, and as a result the government put her son in foster care. We helped clean her trailer out today, and tomorrow we are going back to help her demolish it so she can get a new home and hopefully get her son back. She’s in a really tough situation but she is the sweetest woman. Her friend/roommate is a force of hope and happiness. His love for her helps them get through their tough time. He understands that their situation is sad, but he constantly continues fighting with a smile on his face. The lesson I’m going to take back from this experience is to always understand what is happening, but to never give up

striving for what’s best with a happy attitude.

– Julianna

Food Distribution Nursery

Over the past five days, the Lord has taken my world by storm. He has brought me closer to the 9 wonderful people I am on this trip with and has introduced us to two beautiful parishes; Saint Edwards in Baltimore, MD and Our Lady Queen of Peace in Arlington, VA. Each parish welcomed us with warm smiles and open arms, truly showing the love of God with each act of kindness the people of these parishes blessed us with.

Our Lady Queen of Peace in Arlington, VA is a vibrant parish, with eighty ministries including a clothing store, a partnership with a parish in Haiti, and food distribution. Ann (whom welcomed me and Alex into her home for dinner the night before) saw a need for a nursery for parents to drop their kids off while they went to food distribution.

Ann began this nursery with open arms and an open heart. She was more than equipped for the job, as she taught preschool for 26 years and raised 9 kids of her own. With all of her kids used toys in hand, each week she transforms a church conference room into an exploratorium for the children of Our Lady Queen of Peace while their parents receive food from the food distribution ran by the church.

As we walked into the nursery on Wednesday morning, Ann told us that there were not any rules for the children. In my head I thought, “No rules???? This must be mass chaos.” But I found quite the opposite. Ann explained that the children are not used to having toys, so they do not know how to initiate play and are generally very quiet and keep to themselves. As the children began to file in, the room barely increased with noise. Some children were eager to play with us if we approached them and others needed encouragement and example to begin playing. They shared the toys they were provided with us and with each other peacefully and willingly. Ann does not have an educational aspect to the nursery, the children are merely invited to play and explore and by doing this, they are developing their social skills and creativity.  The children we had the pleasure of meeting that morning were the sweetest, most well behaved children I have ever encountered. With each game of peek-a-boo, each puzzle made, and each doll played with these children taught me that you do not need material possessions to be happy, you merely need a heart open to God and open to those around you.

At the end of food distribution, the initially shy and reserved children are reluctant to leave the nursery. Ann transforms the nursery back into a conference room but both her and the children know that the following Wednesday, the doors to that conference room will once again open to a world of imagination, exploration, and the love of God.

“Not everyone can do great things, but everyone can do small things with great love.” Mother Theresa 

Thank you,

Paige Wilczynski



Family Experience & Immigration Forum

Good afternoon fellow friends, family, and parishioners of faith. I am writing to inform you about the many powerful and intriguing experiences I’ve had over the past couple of days. I honestly have never been more thankful or appreciative of a community in my entire life. When I arrived on this trip, I was initially worried that because I am not really involved in the Spiritan community on campus, and because I just started to reconnect with my faith, I would feel lost. I worried that I would feel embarrassed because depsite growing up Catholic, I had somewhat strayed away from both God and my religion. Although I did feel this way at the beginning of the trip, as the days go on, those barriers and fears have started to diminish. This group has made me feel so welcomed, and each day I feel as though I am getting one step closer to reconnecting with my faith. I am so honored to have the opportunity to get to know my fellow companions and the multiple communities that we’ve come into contact with. I am truly humbled by this experience.

One of the most impactful events was on Tuesday evening, when myself and Paige had the opportunity to eat dinner at a fellow parishioner’s house from Our Lady Queen of Peace in Arlington, Virginia. The parishioner’s name was Ann, and she welcomed both Paige and I into her home with open arms. She was so sweet, kind, and full of life. She told us stories about how she lived in West Berlin during the war, and how she has 9 children and 18 grandchildren. I was so intrigued with her life, and how she was so involved in her faith. It really made me want to get more involved in mine. Her husband was also kind enough to cut a piece of barb wire from the Berlin Wall, and gave a piece to myself and Paige. So, we can forever be embedded with them and their history. As the trip progresses, I am learning more and more about how I can work through the Lord, and how to listen to others and their needs.

Yesterday, myself and 3 others had the opportunity to visit the Centreville Immigration Forum which helps a large group of workers from Quiche, Guatemala to find jobs and prepare for the workforce. As soon as one of the leaders started talking, I wanted to learn more and know what I could do to help. It was an amazing experience speaking to the staff, because you could just tell that they were really passionate about helping the laborers, and really wanted to give them the best opportunities. Whether that be helping them locate jobs, learning English, or helping them maintain their cultural roots, they are truly looking out for their best interest, and I think that is amazing.

“If you have come to help me, you are waisting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” 

-Alexandria Ignasky

*Chicken & Trout 2018*






Guad Squad 2.0

After a long debate about who would have the privilege of going to Guadalupe Social Services for our second day of service there, five of us emerged as the Guad Squad 2.0: Bella, Sairah, Gabby, Alyssa, and me, Leah.

We had heard nothing but wonderful things about Guadalupe and were super pumped to go see it for ourselves. Yes- pumped, early in the morning.

The director for Guadalupe gave us a thorough briefing about the services that they offer to the community. Their array of assistance is one of the most comprehensive social safety nets any of us have ever seen.

First, we were shown the fully stocked soup kitchen that offers a hot meal to each and every person that walks through Guadalupe’s doors. No qualifications, no questions. Next, we were taken to the donation room where clothing, housewares, and other items are sorted and distributed to Guadalupe’s clients. Finally, we got to see the food pantry where Guadalupe provides bags full of groceries every thirty days.

In addition to these day-to-day services that comprise the core of Guadalupe, they also offer a direct financial assistance program, English classes, women’s support groups, a stroller program, and a weekly shower program.

So much of the need in this community can be met by Guadalupe. Their structure and standard of service operates at a level that is unmatched and provides Immokalee with something vital and unique.

However, it is not the logistical aspects alone that make an organization great- an organization is built and characterized by its people.

Within the first few minutes at Guadalupe, it was clear that we were about to spend a day with a group of hardworking, intelligent, kind, beautiful people. There was such a warmth that radiated from within the walls of the church. The day provided such a glorious image of harmony and community from those cooking the meal in the kitchen, to those stuffing letters in the mailroom, to those accepting clothing in the donation room. There as a sense of togetherness and openness that is not often experienced in other contexts.

We even got to speak at length with one of Guadalupe’s staff members who had experience in Immokalee’s farm-working industry, which truly represents the crux of this whole trip. He told us that he has been in Immokalee for 50 years, since he was 7 years old. His farm-working career started at this time in his childhood and although he did not divulge too much detail, our conversation represented the kind of narrative that provides a face to the movement of the CIW.

Guadalupe was perhaps my favorite experience on this trip and the conversations and relationships that were built during these few hours were, quite literally, life-changing.

Until tomorrow…


Chicago to Dayton

Good evening everyone,

The Chicago Dayton crew had a travel day today so there isn’t much to report. We were out the door at St. Ambrose Parish at 8:30am and pulled into St. Benedict the Moor at 3pm. We were able to get a quick tour of the school and have an introduction from Mrs. Pitts the principal and to map out our work for tomorrow.

We made a quick trip to Aldi and bought our groceries for dinner and I was able to share Ektaa’s recipe from last years trip and made chicken with masala and rice.

There is one photo to share but it isn’t from today’s travel. It was taken Monday evening when we celebrated Bridget’s 23rd birthday with a cake made out of many cupcakes. Enjoy the photo. Fr. Bill

The Lion, the Witch, and the Laundromat

Day 3!!!

This morning started at around 8 AM or so, with breakfast, dancing, conversation and of course – coffee. Some of us had already left to Guadalupe Social Services and Habitat for Humanities. Ali and I then headed with Joe and Kate to the Coalition of Immokalee Workers.

Before the work began, Kate took us on a quick car tour. We got to see the grandiose, glamorous Seminole Casino and trailer park homes within 5 blocks of each other. The wealth disparity was so clear and shocking.

When we arrived at the CIW, we were asked to wash sleeping bags and jackets for the Action in NYC next week. With lots of quarters and staff member Sylvia, we were on our way.

Needless to say, 4 hours, 100 sleeping bags, 1 broken washer and $100 later, we were overwhelmed and exhausted. Midway through rolling sleeping bags and then packing them into large carrying sacs, Ali and I (and I think Joe and Kate too) felt defeated. The sleeping bags would not dry entirely and took sometimes 7/8 cycles in a dryer.

Sometimes the sleeping bags would not roll properly or there would not be any bands to hold them. Joe left the laundromat to pickup the rest of the group and everything in the world got better. The whole group was super ready to help us out and get the work done in 30 minutes. Everyone else in the group had a busy morning too, so it was really amazing to see them offer their help, support and enthusiasm. I know it instantly boosted our moods and suddenly things felt more possible.

The afternoon was refreshing. We all had lunch (PB&Js, made with love) @ the lake (Lake Trafford). We got to see two alligators in the swamp when we were leaving! We finished the driving tour as a group (Joe put Kate on speaker phone, as we were in separate cars, and then connected Bluetooth to a speaker so the entire car could hear Kate narrate). We went to a local market with super fresh fruits, produce and aguas frescas that were only $1-$2!!!! Fan favorite was hibiscus agua fresca. Then for a double bonus we went to La Paletearía for some ice cream (some fun flavors were Mexican Chocolate and a paleta that was a mix of fruits and chile pepper!).

To finish the afternoon, we went to the CIW. We sorted t-shirt merchandise, jackets and clothing for people marching in the Action and made paper-maché art.

Today was a lovely third day in Immokalee. Our dinner was delicious Pasta Carbonara, followed by Funfetti cake for dessert (thx Ali, Lisa, Lauren, Sirai, Alyssa).

We can’t wait for what tomorrow may bring. ¡Hasta luego!

– Bella

Picture 1:A colorful laundromat that will never be forgotten

Picture 2:Just a few of the many

Picture 3:A defeated Bella at about 12 PM before help arrived

Picture 4:The most aesthetically pleasing display of produce at the market

Picture 5:All fruit paleta with some chile pepper (see bottom)

Picture 6:Lisa and Kate bachata-ing & merengue-ing

Mullens CCME 2018 – Day Four

Sorry for the late post – it’s been a long day! Hard to believe today was our last full day here in Mullens. We made sure to take nothing for granted today, so we started out making pancakes for breakfast. After enjoying a meal together, we headed over to tour the school in Itmann and complete some small projects there. The old school is currently in the process of being cleaned and converted into a museum and potentially office spaces.The rain held off long enough for us to finally be able to go up to the orchard. This was definitely one of the highlights of our day, especially since the trip leaders been talking up the orchard all week. The students all piled in the backs of pick-up trucks and made the trek up the mountain. Once we were up there, we trimmed and mulched several of the fruit trees that had been planted up there.

We broke for lunch and took some short naps before heading back over to the old school, just to tour some more of the areas we had yet to see. The weather was beautiful, so we walked a short distance over to the old company store. Ruby gave us a wonderfully spooky ghost tour and we had a lot of fun getting scared by her and some of our fellow participants.

We returned back to the MOC and had the very fun opportunity to participate in a line dancing class that is offered at the MOC. Some of us may have had two left feet but it was a blast!!! We got to even work up a little bit of a sweat too.After line dancing, Father Dan and the crew got together and all made enchiladas. It was fabulous and we got to share our meal with Charlene and Allen Cook. We finished dinner and went over to reflection, which ended up being more of a talent show. We had dad jokes, moose calls, funny faces, and singing (although some acts may have been more talented than others….. 😉). We finished reflection with a closing prayer and then fulfilled a tradition of signing a brick on the wall on the second floor of the MOC.We have turned in relatively early as we are waking up to leave tomorrow morning at 6am. We are excited to return home but we already know how much we will miss this place. There is an atmosphere unlike any place we have been and it felt like home. We have been challenged to take what we’ve learned and experienced back with us to Pittsburgh, and Kim and Madeline have no doubt that this group will be up for that challenge. It has been a real honor serving with this group in this community and it is sad to see our trip come to an end. Thank you to everyone who has kept up with our trip, donated to our crowdfunding, and supported us in any way, shape, or form. We couldn’t have done this without you. Lastly, thank you to everyone in Mullens for opening up your town to us and being so welcoming. This warm attitude is what makes West Virginia “almost heaven” and we will miss it and you terribly when we leave tomorrow.