SEND Baltimore experience
Catherine Donnelly, Staff Writer
“Are you girls doing this for credit? How many hours do you need?” It was a question that we had heard multiple times on the trip and it was hard to explain that we were there for a service trip because we wanted to be there. One fellow volunteer saw that we were struggling to explain and his response was perfect, “Just credit from the man above!” On the first night of the trip, we reflected on our decision to go on the trip and how we felt before we left home. Leaving the comforts of home knowing that the spring semester would begin as soon as we got back made some of us reconsider our decision to leap into a largely unknown trip. We knew that we would be working at various Catholic Charities organizations and staying at a church, but we were not aware of any of the details of the service we would be doing. I think it is safe to say that all of us learned a lot and were very grateful to have experienced the trip by the end of the week.
I think all the girls on my trip would agree that our experience could be defined simply as “eye-opening.” Maryland is the wealthiest state in the country, but the discrepancy between the wealthy and those in poverty is astonishing. Almost a quarter of Baltimore residents live in poverty. One in every three children grow up in households below the poverty line, meaning the discrepancy is only growing. It was great to see all of the programs available through Catholic Charities and play a small role in helping out for the week by serving lunch and dinner at some of the largest soup kitchens and homeless shelters in the area. We were also able to spend time with residents of local nursing homes and visit a school for students who have experienced domestic trauma. Although it was overwhelming to see all of the hardship that many were experiencing in their lives, the dedicated volunteers we witnessed made us realize that helping can be easier than we realize. Most of the organizations we visited rely on dedicated volunteer support and consistent donations from churches and local businesses in order to function. Our presence, even just for the week, filled some of the volunteer positions needed at the various facilities.
We were able to meet some very inspiring people and learn their stories. For example, a man named Gene has been working at Our Daily Bread, a soup kitchen, every day for over 40 years. He explained that he dedicated his entire life to service after escaping an abusive family. We were able to hear the stories of two men at Christopher’s Place, a shelter and education center for men looking for a second chance at life, and heard about their struggles with drugs, PTSD, and homelessness. At the nursing home, we met Bunny, an unbelievably energetic woman. She would always shake her shoulders and greet us with such enthusiasm-she reminded us that she was always the first to sign up for any adventure and that her wheelchair wasn’t going to stop her! I think that’s the type of energy and excitement we all should be bringing into the new semester and beyond.
All of the volunteers that we encountered greeted us with open arms and any uncertainty we had about serving at a particular site was quickly eradicated by the kindness and respect we were given simply for likewise giving our respect and time. A frequent saying at Our Daily Bread was that you must “give respect to get respect” and that is something we are all taking away from this trip.
The hardships we witnessed served as a reminder for us to be grateful for all that we have, especially how fortunate we are to receive an education at Assumption, and to not allow the desire for trivial things to consume us when there are people wanting for even the most basic things, like a hot shower or a healthy meal. Our goal to live simply for the week showed us that there are many things we think we need, like always having our phones, that are really unnecessary and may prevent us from being present and appreciating all that we do have. The word compassion means “to suffer with” and by being present at the various sites and forming relationships with the volunteers and residents we encountered, I truly feel that our group was able to empathize with the struggles of the people living in poverty in Baltimore-whether that poverty was homelessness, hunger, fear, or loneliness. The attitude that we cultivated towards connecting with strangers and seeing the face of God in all we met is an attitude that we intend to bring forward in Worcester, both on and off campus.