Service & Justice Trips Archive

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Taking on the Rockies

1912378_10152208827572870_834156329_nI pushed open the doors, stepped foot inside the St. Francis Center in Denver, Colorado, and took a gasping breath. I turned my head up and was greeted by the sight of around 700 people staring at me. I could only think of one word to describe how I felt: intimidated. Feeling that many eyes on me, I decided to turn right and walk up to the desk that was labeled “Intake.” As I reached the desk, I was greeted with a smile and a few words, “Is this your first time here?” It hit me, then, that you never realize who you are until you are mistaken for someone else. It didn’t matter where I was from, what ethnicity I was, how old I was, ANYONE could be homeless, because it could happen to ANYONE. Make no mistake about it, I was not offended. I gained insight. I knew then how much I was about to discover.

The St. Francis Center is a homeless day shelter that provides mail services, a clothing room, access to a phone, storage, and other basic necessities like showers and laundry. All of the Denver group got split into pairs for the first two days and were assigned a location. My partner, Eric Stanek, and I were a bit disoriented as we walked into the staff break room, awaiting a coordinator to tell us further directions. After about twenty minutes we were equipped with name tags, and given our first job, the clothing room.

This was a more one-on-one interaction with the guests. Our job was to stand behind one of the counters and get t-shirts, underwear, and pants from the shelves according to what size the customers wanted. Of course being a girl, when a man is saying size 36 x 32 you are absolutely distraught over what this means. I tried to make small talk with them, smile and tell a joke. Relating to the guests was a way I could give back, let them know I wanted to be their friend, not just give them things. Like a mutually beneficial relationship, I slowly let myself gain knowledge from these people who were, in many ways, probably wiser than me. You don’t expect them to offer you anything, you are there to serve, but you acquire understanding from real events, from real people and their experience.

Our next work site for the day was at mail services. It was chaotic but worthwhile. One of my most distinct recollections was of a man named Thomas. Like every other person that came up to the window, Thomas told me his full name and asked politely if I could check his mail. I examined his I.D. to verify his name and went to search. Three minutes went by before I returned with his mail. I handed him his envelopes and wished him a nice day with a smile. He took the letters from me and said with sincerity, “Thank you Gwen. Heaven must really be missing their angel.”

He walked away while I was still in bit of a state of disbelief. I have reflected on that moment dozens of times since then, each time realizing something new. He wasn’t trying to be cliché; he was stating his gratitude for my aid. I learned that something as small as having an address to have your items mailed to, something that we might take for granted, could mean so much for someone. I found that the power of a smile might be enough to shine a light on how one person cares for you. Most importantly, I grasped how going on my service trip might not change the world, but I could make an impact, even a small one, even on just a single person.

Reflecting on your trip is a great method to experience it through the past of what happened, the present of what you learned, and the future of how you want to take that and let it change you. Being intimidated is a scary thing. No one ever really wants to be put in a situation where they don’t have full control. Sometimes you just need to let go and experience. St. Francis Center did intimidate me when I first entered, but the wisdom it has given me will continue to assist me in my future endeavors, especially service.


Gwen McElhattan
Class of 2017
College of Arts & Sciences
SBSJT 2014 Trip Participant

 

 

The CCSJ blogs are meant to be a place for Creighton students, faculty, staff, alumni/ae, and friends to reflect on their experiences with programs sponsored by the office or related to its mission. The views expressed in these reflections, and all other blogs found on or linked to from this website, are those of the individual authors and are not necessarily those of Creighton University, the Creighton Center for Service and Justice (CCSJ), or any of the University’s affiliates. The University and the CCSJ are not responsible for the actions, content, accuracy, or opinions expressed in these blogs.

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Sharing Humanity

Bridget Su CasaBelow is a dialogue-reflection Bridget Battafarano shared from her Service & Justice Trip to Albuquerque, NM.

Scene: Albuquerque, NM; St. Martin’s Hospitality Center (Day shelter for people experiencing homelessness)

As the shelter was about to close one day, a man was walking out with his backpack. The strap suddenly ripped and he looked up and let out a frustrated breath. Seeing him, I said ,“Hey, you know the shower station is closed now, but there are sewing supplies in there and if you come back tomorrow, you can use them to fix that strap. Or I could sew it for you if you want.”
“Really?”
“Yeah.”
“Thanks.”
I thought that maybe this man would return and fix his strap. I was proud of myself for offering my services, for offering a helping hand. I did not think much more of it. What I was not expecting was that this man would come back the next day and search for me in the incredibly crowded shelter because his backpack really was in dire need of some stitches. So, stopping my project of the moment, I went with this man – whose name I learned is Randy – retrieved the necessary supplies, and sat down with him to sew. As we sat, Randy told me a bit about himself and we shared conversation with those sitting around us. I sewed the first strap on his backpack and realized the loop at the top was only half attached.
“Do you want me to reattach this?”
“No, I’ll never use it. You can keep it. You can stitch my initials in it. To remember me.”
At first, I found this suggestion odd, but only very briefly. Randy had become, in my eyes, a man who was not to be pitied but admired and befriended. When I went to sew his backpack straps, I think I was, unconsciously, thinking of this as something I could do for someone else. It turned out that what I was doing was simply being with Randy and the others. We were sharing in our common humanity, we were being with one another as human beings. None of us were “getting on the other’s level” or changing ourselves to try to relate better. I felt a sense of utter equality and peace in knowing that this was not about solving anyone’s problems or leveling the playing field because there were no differences that mattered between us in those moments. We share the same air and growing space, the same world, and that is enough to tie us in ways that we cannot sever.
I had run out of thread on the first strap and the remaining thread options were dark blue and pink.
“So, you want the pink, right?” I said with a smile.
“Ah, no. The other – actually, yeah. Sew it in pink, so I remember.”
“Really? Are you sure?”
“Yeah.”
And there it was. An exchange of remembrances so simple that it may not mean anything to anyone else. But my backpack loop with the initials “R. J.” crudely embroidered, is a constant reminder of this man, what he taught me, and the humanity we all share.”

Bridget Battafarano
Class of 2015
College of Arts & Sciences
SBSJT 2014 Trip Participant

 

 

The CCSJ blogs are meant to be a place for Creighton students, faculty, staff, alumni/ae, and friends to reflect on their experiences with programs sponsored by the office or related to its mission. The views expressed in these reflections, and all other blogs found on or linked to from this website, are those of the individual authors and are not necessarily those of Creighton University, the Creighton Center for Service and Justice (CCSJ), or any of the University’s affiliates. The University and the CCSJ are not responsible for the actions, content, accuracy, or opinions expressed in these blogs.

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The Ultimate Urban Plunge

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES
Did I think my Spring Break would involve feeding pretzels to strangers in some public library in Indiana? How about asking the neighbor for a toilet plunger because we had some issues plunging? Or even having a brilliant man who had no home write me a poem about my smile?

Nope. Not a single one of these thoughts had crossed my mind. I was super excited, but I had no clue what to expect. Now, after just getting back from Cleveland, Ohio, I can confidently say this was the best spring break I have ever had.

Before I went on my Spring Break Service & Justice Trip, I learned about seven different pillars, all of which were clearly present during my trip. However, one that especially stuck out to me was community. Not only did my group form an awesome little community, but we also made connections with the people we met in Cleveland.

I did not know anyone in my group before going on the trip, and it’s so cool to think that now after spending a week with them 24/7, we formed into a little family. We cooked, slept, drove, ate, laughed, and even (some of us) shed a few tears together. We now share numerous inside jokes, experiences, and memories that I can only hope mean as much to my group as they do to me.

The community in Cleveland was awesome! The Catholic Worker House volunteers, our hosts, were enthusiastic and passionate about what they do. They put together an awesome schedule for us for the week, took the time to get to know us, and even invited us over for dinner on Wednesday night. The people we met in Cleveland were amazing as well. On the last night, I was sitting and talking with two younger gentlemen who, despite everything they had been through, still understood their purpose in life and the positive direction they were heading towards. They were SO talented too. One wrote me a poem, and the other was free-styling poems about what he saw around him. The conversations I had with the people I met in Cleveland taught me so much about life, and they have definitely changed my perspective on the world. The man who was free-styling, L-Train was his name, asked me to write on his hand just one word to describe my week in Cleveland. The word came to mind right away, and I wrote on his hand: “eye-opening.”

I hope to be involved with Service & Justice trips for the remainder of my time at Creighton, because after going on this one, I can’t think of a better way to spend my Fall and Spring breaks.

Cassie Weck
Class of 2017
College of Arts & Sciences
SBSJT 2014 Trip Paricipant

 

 

 

The CCSJ blogs are meant to be a place for Creighton students, faculty, staff, alumni/ae, and friends to reflect on their experiences with programs sponsored by the office or related to its mission. The views expressed in these reflections, and all other blogs found on or linked to from this website, are those of the individual authors and are not necessarily those of Creighton University, the Creighton Center for Service and Justice (CCSJ), or any of the University’s affiliates. The University and the CCSJ are not responsible for the actions, content, accuracy, or opinions expressed in these blogs.

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Who, What, Where, When, Why?

Iwa Chanthavong Photo
Upon arriving in Minneapolis for my first Service trip experience, I was overwhelmed with thoughts, emotions, and most of all – QUESTIONS. Who am I going to meet? What will our host site look like? And, I have to confess, how am I going to survive without my phone and makeup?! Throughout the week these questions were slowly answered, but what I did not initially realize was that the questions that truly mattered were the ones that could not be so easily solved. They were the ones that stemmed from the people I met, the conversations I had, and the amazing stories I heard.

One evening in particular brought these important questions to mind. Immigration was the focus of the evening, and I honestly did not think that immigration would be a part of our trip. However, it ended up being one of the most impactful topics I encountered during the service trip. On that evening, a few brave women opened their hearts to us and shared their immigration stories. These women immigrated to the US in hopes for better job opportunities and decent living conditions. As immigrants in the US they work hard, long days for low wages. In addition, their constant fear of being deported or caught keeps them from living in peace. One woman, for example, had to leave her son behind in Mexico and has not seen him in years – she told us all she wanted was to be able to see her son and hug him. Another woman and her husband put their faith in a lawyer who told them he would help them gain legal documentation, but he ended up stealing all of their savings and forced them to start all over again.

As a result of these stories and the discussion afterward, my mind exploded with questions. Why are living conditions in Mexico the way they are? Why are immigration laws the way they are? What can I do to create justice for these women and for others who share similar stories? How can I take these stories from Minneapolis to Omaha, apply them to my own community, and make an impact on those around me? My service trip taught me three important things. First, the most important questions are the ones that are the hardest to answer. Second, asking tough questions like the ones above should come hand-in-hand with doing service. And finally, even though the questions may remain unanswered, it is important that I take them with me wherever I go. The questions above have traveled back to Omaha with me, and I know that they will motivate me to find answers and create justice for immigrants.

Iwa Chanthavong
Class of 2015
Heider College of Business
SBSJT 2014 Trip Participant

 

 

The CCSJ blogs are meant to be a place for Creighton students, faculty, staff, alumni/ae, and friends to reflect on their experiences with programs sponsored by the office or related to its mission. The views expressed in these reflections, and all other blogs found on or linked to from this website, are those of the individual authors and are not necessarily those of Creighton University, the Creighton Center for Service and Justice (CCSJ), or any of the University’s affiliates. The University and the CCSJ are not responsible for the actions, content, accuracy, or opinions expressed in these blogs.

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Confessions of a Meataholic

Aaron PonceOne of my biggest passions is meat. I’ve found the sport of eating a tender slab of steak, or dining on a succulent chicken to be most riveting. Not once have my forefathers contemplated the significant impacts of the possibility of human existence without ample protein. It was sir William Shakespeare who made the profound statement, “A man loves the meat in his youth that he cannot endure in his age,”. So if I am to love meat, why beith the distress of our crops? Our community? A service trip on sustainability right at home in Omaha and Lincoln has answered the unspoken question that has long been hidden in my head. I love meat, but do I really need it?

Within a month, we probably encounter enough waste to fill a building. It’s become an undeniable truth that waste is simply everywhere. Culture has taught us to mass produce and take on efficiency and profit over sustainability and renewable sources. But we transported ourselves to Shadow Brook Farm in Lincoln, and we experience life on the farm side with the Loth family. Their organic farm had a major emphasis on concepts of sustainability. Waste was kept to a bare minimum, and you would be surprised with what you think would be waste, could be food for a new crop of plants, or could be recycled into a new tool or decoration.

Now comes the meat. On our service trip, we decided to go VEGETARIAN. That’s right, no meat, for five days. Sustainability advocates for vegetation, as the amount of energy we acquire from meat requires a lot more energy input, than acquiring the same energy from a plant. Animals require food (plants), water, and maintenance. A plant only requires water, good soil (unless you have an aquaponic system), and sunshine. Plants are simple, and surprisingly, quite delicious. Not once on the service trip have I had a dream of lambs jumping over the fence, turning into a lamb chop, and falling into my mouth. In fact, I would be confident to say that the change in diet left me feeling more fresh and clean than usual. Harvesting energy from plants and other products instead of meat is definitely much more simple and renewable for the community and healthy for the individual. The people in my group actually became closer to each other, and the community by embracing vegetarianism. We worked together to create all vegetarian dishes that were still very delicious.

My meat cravings after the trip did not subside, however, coming back, I now know that vegetarianism is not really for eccentric hippies or tree huggers. Vegetarianism is for everyone. Working more vegetables like beans, fruits and leafy plants into a diet, and cutting back on the meat, will still keep you nutritionally sound, and not starved for life of meat. The key is in balance. I don’t need to splurge on meat, a diet with a healthy balance is perfect. I still indulge on a moist steak, but throw me some carrots, potatoes, and a salad, and I couldn’t be any happier.

Aaron Ponce
Class of 2017
College of Arts and Sciences

The CCSJ blogs are meant to be a place for Creighton students, faculty, staff, alumni/ae, and friends to reflect on their experiences with programs sponsored by the office or related to its mission. The views expressed in these reflections, and all other blogs found on or linked to from this website, are those of the individual authors and are not necessarily those of Creighton University, the Creighton Center for Service and Justice (CCSJ), or any of the University’s affiliates. The University and the CCSJ are not responsible for the actions, content, accuracy, or opinions expressed in these blogs.

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Remembering the Border

El Paso Spring Break Service & Justice Trip at the top of Mt. Cristo Rey.

El Paso Spring Break Service & Justice Trip at the top of Mt. Cristo Rey.

My alarm buzzes, I roll out of bed, stretch as my feet hit the floor and I open the shades. Sunshine and a pang of longing greet me. I flash back to a memory already four weeks old: Waking up in sunny El Paso, TX.

Four weeks after my Spring Break Service & Justice Trip in El Paso for a border immersion, it’s not the personal stories I’d heard from migrants and those who work with migrants, it’s not the three hour hike up and down Mt. Cristo Rey, during which I participated in a Migrant’s Stations of the Cross, and it’s not the desert meditation I had at the border that I think of first.

Instead, what my heart aches for most each morning that I wake up these first weeks back is the simple yet powerful setting in which all these experiences took place.

Each morning in El Paso I’d wake up in a rather barren, chilly bedroom in the Columban Mission Center—the Columbans, a Catholic religious order comprised of both priests and religious sisters, emphasized simplicity in their sparse living conditions as well as sustainability in the limited heating and cooling energy sources they use. I’d rise, say a quick prayer of thanks for a new day and look out the window at the sun rising over the Segundo Barrio, the “Second Neighborhood.”

The Segundo Barrio is a mix of modest houses, industrial buildings, run-down shops, palm trees and desert. The border is within walking distance of the Columban Mission Center. Churches and Mexican grocery stores fill the streets downtown, which always seems cluttered with people and street vendors all rushing in different directions. The International Bridge stretching between El Paso and Juarez, Mexico is perpetually backed-up with eager families trying to reach each other from both sides.

The Segundo Barrio was the setting for a week that profoundly affected me in ways I am just beginning to understand.

A migrant woman cooked my group dinner and shared a harrowing tale of how she had to flee Juarez for her life and the safety of her family.

 A young man pursuing a social work degree at the University of Texas in El Paso shared his passion for, and the pain involved in, working with unaccompanied minors who cross the border.

An older man committed to social justice rallied my group and challenged us as he talked about the work he does with Annunciation House—a migrant shelter across from the Columban Mission Center. This man, Reuben, showed us the ways we unwittingly contribute to a system that oppresses migrants.

On our last day in El Paso, my group met and played with a large number of migrant children from Annunciation House for over an hour. In the melee of beautiful sunshine, shrieks of joy and laughter, and children running in every direction, we realized just how connected we are to each other, that we are all brothers and sisters yearning for love.

Nearly every moment that brought me to tears, filled me with anger, gave me sweet joy and set my heart on fire happened at the Columban Mission Center in the Segundo Barrio—or atop the mountains overlooking it all, overlooking two cities—El Paso and Juarez—that really function as one.

My week on the margin, living nearly up against the fence of the border, revealed stories and experiences of brokenness and courage, inspired me to love bigger and advocate for a more just and humane immigration system that keeps families together and provides safety for the most vulnerable.

Every morning I wake up, I think of El Paso, of the Segundo Barrio and the people I met and the experiences I had there. I feel El Paso on the warm, spring breeze, I see the people I met there in the faces of others here in Omaha, back at Creighton University, and I hear them asking me to remember it all.

Every time I open the shades here in Omaha, I’ll remember waking up and looking out the window at the Segundo Barrio, and I’ll carry the people and their stories in my heart as I pray for, and do as much as I can to contribute to, just immigration reform. The sand may be shaken from my shoes but the migrants’ stories will never be shaken from my heart.

Anna Ferguson
Class of 2015
College of Arts and Sciences
CCSJ Student Coordinator

The CCSJ blogs are meant to be a place for Creighton students, faculty, staff, alumni/ae, and friends to reflect on their experiences with programs sponsored by the office or related to its mission. The views expressed in these reflections, and all other blogs found on or linked to from this website, are those of the individual authors and are not necessarily those of Creighton University, the Creighton Center for Service and Justice (CCSJ), or any of the University’s affiliates. The University and the CCSJ are not responsible for the actions, content, accuracy, or opinions expressed in these blogs.


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