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Students’ weekend of service exposes them to national issue of poverty

Katelyn Shaughnessy, Crier Staff

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Urban Immersions, a mission of service and solidarity offered by Saint Anselm’s Office of Campus Ministry, connects students with opportunities to serve communities in need.

Through these immersions, busy college students are encouraged to get involved and make a direct impact on others’ lives by taking part in these trips. These trips place participants directly in areas in need and set them to work for a particular cause.

With a mission statement modelled by the message of Matthew 25, the Urban Immersion program allows students to take a weekend away from their own lives to experience how others live their daily lives according to their own reality. The program furthermore “seeks to guide participants in the direction of service in the name of God”.

Because “it is the goal of the program to serve as an affective experience in which students have a greater awareness of poverty and injustice particularly in the inner city, and experience themselves in a new arena”, students should take advantage of these trips.

The mission statement goes on further, saying, “We hope students will be awakened to the world and themselves in a new dimension and be refreshed by the possibilities and potential of their very own hands to impact the lives of others in a Christ-like way through social justice.”

For this most recent trip, a group involving student leaders Hannah Miles, Casey Flanigan, and Jillian Rigby “will be working with the St Francis Inn, a soup kitchen run by Franciscans in inner city Philadelphia”, as the Campus Minister Andrew Fellows explained.

He adds that Saint Anselm’s contribution to St. Francis Inn did not begin this past weekend, but rather,  “[Campus Ministry] have sent many groups to work with St. Francis Inn over the years, both for week long trips for WBA or SBA, and for weekend long Urban Immersions.” Urban Immersions trips, similar to Winter Break Alternative or Spring Break Alternative trips, are one of the many options for Saint Anselm students to start out with service.

For students looking to participate in Urban Immersions, Andrew Fellows explains that “participants will prepare and serve meals, deliver meals to homes, assist in thrift store clean up, and partake in women’s shelter outreach”. In terms of scheduling participants’ time, “the group serves on Saturday morning and Sunday morning,” Andrew Fellows explains, and “on Saturday evening they have a few free hours to take in the local culture and history of Philadelphia.”

“St. Francis Inn is a bit unique among soup kitchens because they use a ‘restaurant’ style model”, said Fellows. “When guests come in (and they are always referred to as guests) they sit at a table as they are waited on and served by the volunteers (which is one of the jobs our students will be performing).”

And “guests are allowed options and choices for drinks and desserts, which are brought to them by the volunteer servers with a smile.” To Fellows, “this simple act of allowing options and being served is something that affirms the human dignity of all guests, and is not something which many of them are accustomed to in their daily lives.”

On a more personalized level, though, Fellows expands upon his experience at St. Francis over the years, and what strikes him as he reflects on his time there:

“Having been to the St Francis Inn, one of the things that struck me the most was a simple sign posted by the back door.  St Francis Inn will sometimes collect mail for guests if they have no fixed address and hold it in a back room.” He adds, “The back door has a peep hole, and when someone knocks at the back door, you very clearly see the sign they have posted there for when you look out.  It reads, ‘Smile.  Jesus is at the door’.”

“This affirmation,” he said, “of seeing Christ in all people, and affirming their dignity, regardless of circumstances, is something that I hope all our participants take away from the weekend.”

Being “formed in the spirit of the Gospel and inspired by the life and compassion of Francis and Clare of Assisi”, the individuals of St. Francis Inn, as well as those of our own Campus Ministry, “try to meet the immediate daily needs of the people we serve with food, clothing and hospitality,” according to their mission statement, and “[they] empower persons to break the cycle of homelessness and poverty and address structural injustices.” And, in a more personalized and empirical sense, they “seek to build relationships with those that we serve by respecting their human dignity and by helping them to restore hope in their lives, and by living simply among them.”

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Students’ weekend of service exposes them to national issue of poverty