Spring break service makes an impact

From left, Nathan Mirr, Allison Ambrose and Paige Magistrelli plant onions at Bethlehem Farms in Talcott, West Virginia, during a service trip during spring break. The three are from St. Ambrose University in Davenport.

By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger

DAVENPORT —  St. Ambrose University students had the opportunity to participate in one of two mission trips over spring break. A dozen students traveled to Bethlehem Farm in Talcott, West Virginia. Another five went to Well of Mercy in Chicago.

“Domestic mission trips are so impactful,” says Nicky Gant, service and justice coordinator at St. Ambrose University.

Bethlehem Farm is a community in Appalachia devoted to prayer, service, community and simplicity, Gant noted. “We learned a lot about sustainability and conservation while helping out on their farm.” Students used sawdust toilets for composting purposes, solar powered lanterns to walk at night and took bucket showers in an outhouse.


Bethlehem Farm “is a pretty remote and mountainous location,” said sophomore Morgan Miller, a member of St. John Vianney Parish in Bettendorf. “There’s no cell service and the last half hour of the drive was a one lane, curvy road.”

Each morning began with Morning Prayer, farm chores and breakfast. After that, crews split up to work on construction projects. Each day one crew stayed behind to cook and clean. “When crews got home in the evening, we ate dinner together, had some free time, then had evening prayer. Each crew had the chance to lead prayer.”

During that free time in the evening, Miller said there were various activities and speakers. A social worker from the community spoke of the problems that face Appalachia due to high poverty rates. On another night, community members joined volunteers for dinner and played folk music. The week ended with a bonfire, campfire songs and stargazing.

She enjoyed taking walks at sunrise. “We often had reflective time to walk around the farm visiting the donkeys or sitting by the pond to pray and take in nature. It was so beautiful in the mountains, especially in contrast to Iowa.”

The biggest challenge was a feeling of disconnect from the world, Miller said. “It was a completely different lifestyle than I was used to. At first, the sawdust toilets, bucket showers, compost bin and garden-grown produce were overwhelming. But I embraced those challenges as the full experience. By the end, I loved it.”

Miller, who also went on an SAU spring break mission last year, said she is grateful for the opportunity to volunteer alongside fellow students. “The group that we brought was so open and willing to participate. We really bonded quickly. I loved getting to share my faith and experience different versions of their faith at the farm.”

Well of Mercy is a residential facility designed to support mothers and their children who would otherwise face homelessness. St. Ambrose volunteers had the opportunity to build relationships

St. Ambrose University students Amelia Von Alexander, left, and Kelsey Fortner fold clothes during a service trip to Well of Mercy in Chicago during spring break.

with the mothers in the program, throw a birthday party, sort donations and help with household work.

Freshman Anna Verry of St. Thomas More Parish in Coralville participated in a home rebuilding mission trip in high school and thought volunteering at Well of Mercy would be a unique experience. “I knew by going on this service trip I would be challenged and gain greater knowledge on issues that some of God’s children face in our world.”

She cherishes the memory of singing and dancing to “If You’re Happy and You Know It” with the children in Well of Mercy’s daycare program. “The smiles on the faces of the kids and the joy that radiated from them was the sweetest thing to see. Their smiles are a great reminder that no matter what stage of life you are in or what challenges you are going through, God is with you and so you should spread love and joy to everyone you meet.”

From talking to founder Mary Zeien, Verry gained a better understanding of “why so many people need help.” Well of Mercy doesn’t have the capacity to help everyone who asks for assistance, and there is an unmet need in the community for single fathers. “Mary said that if a Well of Mercy for men were opened tomorrow, every room would be filled. The need is that great.”

Verry said she is grateful for the opportunity to participate in a spring break mission trip. “The connections I made on this trip will last a lifetime and I am reminded of God’s great love through these relationships. I look forward to doing more service projects and service trips with St. Ambrose University and seeing the impact that can be made in my community and beyond.”

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