Marist Students, Faculty, and Staff Spend Spring Break Doing Good

Marist College

April 23, 2018 — A group of 24 students and chaperones from the Marist chapter of Habitat for Humanity traded their bathing suits and sunglasses for tool belts and safety goggles when they dedicated their spring break to Habitat for Humanity International’s Collegiate Challenge, in which participants build homes for those in need. This year, the destination was Oklahoma City, where students laid sod, caulked, painted, and framed houses that were either damaged by tornadoes or newly constructed on lots purchased by Central Oklahoma Habitat for Humanity. Brought together by the goal of spreading positive energy, their week of hard work in a chilly construction zone turned into a uniquely rewarding service trip filled with unforgettable memories. 

Departing Marist on a cold Sunday morning on a bus to Newark Airport, many students were filled with anxiety about the week ahead. While many had attended previous Collegiate Challenges, each trip inevitably presents its own unique trials.  Seniors like Mary Elizabeth Guida and Alexis Kishimoto were excited to embrace a leadership role on the trip, while new members of Habitat didn’t know what to expect. Leading the students on this adventure were chaperones Melissa McCarthy, Learning Disabilities Specialist; Marina Melita, Lecturer of Italian; and Alex Conaway, Coordinator of First Year Programs and Leadership Development.

Arriving in the suburbs of Oklahoma City, the students observed how the homes there must be built to withstand severe weather patterns. Most homes were constructed of brick, mortar, and concrete to withstand the winds of Oklahoma’s notorious tornadoes. On the job sites, the group encountered houses that were in various stages of completion and throughout the week, they worked on laying sod, measuring and cutting wood panels for a roof, and caulking and painting homes. Participants shared confined spaces, took cold showers, and slept on the floor on deflated air mattresses. Guida stated, “It made us grateful for the comfortable lives we’ve been given as well as helped us form a strong bond with each other.”

She added, “One of the most rewarding events we experienced was a home dedication, an event that not many on the trip had experienced. The family was extremely grateful and demonstrated their appreciation by cooking us some delicious homemade tamales.” She added, “Nothing was more rewarding than seeing the smiles on the family’s faces when they were handed the keys to their new home. It made us realize that the smallest act of kindness can truly make a difference in an individual’s life.” 

Fortunately, the group’s time in Oklahoma was not all work. Kishimoto noted, “When we weren’t at a build site, we explored the surrounding community and got a taste of the culture.” During this time, some of the students and chaperones attended the National Oklahoma Memorial Museum, while other students walked around Oklahoma City and visited the Myriad Botanical Gardens. Everyone on the trip took in breathtaking views of Oklahoma at Mount Scott, a well-knownsite. Added Kishimoto, “In the evenings, after settling in for the night at the local church where we stayed, we would play games that allowed us to get to know one another. We were able to share life experiences, find similarities, and create a unique bond. This trip was a truly meaningful experience and one that cannot be replicated.”

Club advisor and chaperone McCarthy noted that, for her, “Habitat for Humanity means sharing kindness, paying it forward and mostly, doing my small part to make the world a better place. It is also setting an example for my children and our college students that when you are fortunate enough to have all your needs met, and your health, you should do whatever you can to help those less fortunate. Always count your blessings.”

Just weeks away from graduation, seniors Guida and Kishimoto took a moment to reflect upon the unique opportunities that Habitat for Humanity has created for them. “This service organization has allowed us to step out of our comfort zones, experience different cultures, and learn construction skills that many of us would not have learned otherwise,” said Guida. Added Kishimoto, “Through Habitat for Humanity, we were able to develop leadership skills and qualities that will help us to succeed in our careers. We are so thankful to both Marist and Habitat for Humanity for giving us four years of unforgettable lessons, great memories, and lifelong friendships.”

Campus Ministry’s Global Outreach Returns to Mexico

In an inspiring example of travel with a purpose, 10 Marist students and Campus Minister Michelle Khawam spent spring break volunteering in Mérida, Mexico. This annual trip is called Global Outreach, and it begins with a van leaving Donnelly Hall at 4:30am. After the ride to the airport, two airplanes, and a “harrowing” golf cart ride through the Mexico City airport, the sleep-deprived group arrived in Mérida, the largest city on the Yucatán Peninsula.  

The group was greeted warmly at the Mérida airport by Marist Brother Agustín Acevedo Sánchez, who serves as director of the Centro Marista de Desarrollo (CEMADE), where the students would spend spring break. CEMADE, located in an impoverished area of the city, provides the community with social services including continuing education classes, activities for children, and most importantly, nutritious food. Each year, Campus Ministry organizes a group of students to travel there and undertake a series of projects. This year, the projects focused on providing food for the community, including building a greenhouse, constructing a fence for a goat enclosure, and began work on a fence for another garden plot. Under the direction of Brother Agustín and CEMADE’s dedicated staff, the Global Outreach group engaged in a week of hard work in the tropical sun. Said Megan Nickel ’18, “When we dug holes in the wrong spot or got spiky weeds stuck to our fingers, it was hard not to complain. Yet, I can honestly say that this experience was the most life-changing and incredible week of my college career.”

Underlying this trip is the firm belief that those with many blessings have a responsibility to give back. According to Khawam, “It’s easy to look at community service as a one-way transaction between the giver and the recipient, but this couldn’t be farther from the truth. While our help was appreciated, every project that we completed, whether it was pulling weeds, digging holes, or laying bricks, could have been done faster and better by nearly everyone at the center. I think the Marist students learned entirely more from the people we met than they learned from us.” The Global Outreach group did teach the local children some English, and the children taught them some Mayan (commonly spoken in Yucatán) in return. Noted Nickel, “We learned that material possessions are not a prerequisite for happiness, and that joy comes from the people in your life. We learned to live simply, so that others may simply live.  Above all, we learned that serving one’s fellow human beings while expecting nothing in return is the greatest and purest form of love.”     

Most of the Marist students didn’t know each other before the trip, but over the course of spring break, the connection they were able to develop was remarkable. The conversations that arise while working in 90-degree weather pulling weeds are different from the typical banter of a dining hall. Working together, the students learned patience for the things they couldn’t control, understanding of physical and personal differences, creativity in problem solving, and compassion. Said Nickel, “We were constantly looking out for each other, encouraging water breaks when the sun became hot, and making sure that no one was left behind. Those who spoke Spanish gave freely and selflessly of their skills to make sure that everyone could communicate. We were truly blessed with some of the most unique, giving, kind, and dedicated people that the Marist community has to offer.” The group also had the opportunity to visit Universidad Marista de Mérida and were reminded that the Marist family is indeed worldwide.

A week later, when the work was done and the suitcases were packed for the trip home, the group looked back on an incomparable experience. They had mixed cement and learned to make horchata. They had built a greenhouse and fenced enclosure, made friends with local community members, and emerged as a team with a shared understanding of what it means to love selflessly.  As the group embarked on the return journey to New York, Brother Agustín reminded them, “This will always be your home.”


Fashion Class Raises Funds for Caribbean Non-profit Organization

Finally, students in the Fashion Program’s “Event Planning” course raised $500 in much-needed funds for Nana Baby Children’s Home in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands.   Professional Lecturer of Fashion Design and Merchandising Juan-Manuel Olivera-Silvera personally delivered the donation during spring break and met with the organization’s founders. Established in 1989, Nana Baby Children’s Home is an emergency care foster home serving children from birth to age 12. It provides shelter, food, and a caring and stable environment to temporarily displaced children until those children can either return to their own families or be placed in a permanent foster home. With St. Thomas still struggling to recover from Hurricanes Irma and Maria, the students’ donation was extremely welcome. Students in the class planned and produced a total of 16 events, including the annual Brunch for Future Fashion Leaders. The monetary donation came from the funds raised at the various events, as well as the students’ leftover budget.

Pictured above are the orphanage’s founders Miss Rita and Miss Beulah receiving the donation from Marist, accompanied by Professor Juan-Manuel Olivera-Silvera, who taught the Event Planning for Fashion class this semester.

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