SAU students give up spring break for service

Students from St. Ambrose University in Davenport volunteer at A Simple House in Kansas City, Missouri, earlier this spring.

By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger

DAVENPORT — When St. Ambrose University sophomore Kasey Campagna signed up for a spring break service trip to a Native American Reservation, she was excited to see what she could do to help. A rise in COVID-19 cases caused cancellation of the trip for the safety of the people living on the reservation.

An alternative trip, to Living Lands and Waters in Memphis, Tennessee, seemed the best option. “I’ll admit, I wasn’t super thrilled about the change in destinations, but after discussing my options more with my parents, I decided I would still commit to the Living Lands and Waters trip,” Campagna, of Oneida, Illinois, said.

The other option for St. Ambrose students was a service trip to A Simple House in Kansas City, Missouri. “Both offered impactful service,” said Nicky Gant, the university’s coordinator of service and justice in campus ministry.


Campagna described her experience. “Each day, we would meet at the marina and load up all of our trash bags, water, life-jackets and any other gear we would need onto the Living Lands Crew’s skiffs.” She and other participants traveled to different banks of the Mississippi River and its tributaries to pick up trash. Around 40 volunteers from several schools assisted in the cleanup, she said. They spent mornings collecting trash, took a break for lunch on the Living Lands barge and then sorted the trash before heading out to collect more trash.

“This was a truly life-changing experience,” she said. “I had always heard about the amount of trash present in our waterways, but it’s so hard to understand the magnitude until you see it with your own eyes. One thing I did to help keep myself motivated during the week was to count how many hand-held lighters I found on the banks. You would think ‘Oh, those are so tiny, no one would throw them out into nature.’ Well, I found 131 lighters in the span of three days.”

The service trip was not all work. The group did “touristy things” during the night. “We were able to walk Beale Street, tour the STAX Museum of American Soul Music and the National Civil Rights Museum, attend a NBA Grizzlies game and eat some incredible barbecue, seafood and authentic hush puppies. We also went sightseeing around the city.”
She was grateful for the service trip experience “with some of the most kind-hearted individuals you would ever encounter. I will definitely never reach for a plastic straw again and I will be in the market for some reusable metal straws soon,” she said.

St. Ambrose University senior Maggie McGreal picks up garbage during a spring break service trip to Tennessee earlier this spring. Two groups from the Davenport Catholic university participated in service trips.

St. Ambrose freshman Morgan Miller had a memorable experience on her trip to A Simple House, where full-time missionaries live and work for one to two years ministering to persons experiencing homelessness. Miller, a member of St. John Vianney Parish in Bettendorf, said A Simple House uses “friendship evangelization” to make friends with the poorest people who don’t have home or jobs and struggle mentally, physically or emotionally. The missionaries “focus on the spiritual things” that people lack. They take people out to lunch and get to know them or lead Bible studies with them, for example.

“The missionaries live simple lives of prayer, go to daily Mass, pray parts of the Liturgy of the Hours and manage a small household budget. A Simple House is completely reliant on outside donations for the assistance they provide.”

She and other St. Ambrose participants stayed at A Simple House, shared meals and prayed with the missionaries. “In the mornings, after Mass, we heard talks and had discussions about interacting with the homeless. We also learned about the problem of poverty as a whole and the systemic issues that are causing it. In the afternoons, we were paired up with a missionary and went out with them to do a variety of things.”

“One day I helped put on a new screen door for a family. Another day I did a Bible study in someone’s home. I also went out to lunch with people, went to homeless camps to meet new friends and helped cook burgers for a larger homeless camp. These were pretty much all things that I wouldn’t have done unless I went on this trip.”

She discovered that people struggling with homelessness and poverty “really are just people, like me, who have had certain difficult circumstances in their lives. We help them by giving them friendship and human connection, which in turns gives them hope and encouragement.”

The missionaries “who were so joyful and happy to give of themselves” made a big impression on her. “They were so selfless and generous with their time and resources. Additionally, they really emphasized the idea of quality over quantity, which is biblical.”

“Jesus didn’t heal every sick person in every town that he visited. Instead, Jesus helped a couple, but in deep ways, so that they could spread his message. Similarly, A Simple House isn’t going to be able to reach and help every homeless or struggling person in Kansas City, but they can form bonds with some. By changing a few people’s lives for the better, an impact will be made in the community.”

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