Whether tutoring their peers, spending time with neighbors at Briarwood Shelter, or working as a counselor at Esopus, Stanners enjoy rich, fulfilling experiences in service.
There is one opportunity, however, that requires added dedication, but can ultimately be among the most rewarding experiences of their lives.
The St. Marcellin Champagnat Society (SMCS), founded nearly 10 years ago by teachers Brother Pat Hogan and Chris Dougherty, is a service society that provides opportunities for students and alumni to serve the needy, sick and disabled at The Shrine at Lourdes, France, the United States and other locations abroad.
Lourdes is a staple among SMCS destinations, but the society has also visited South Dakota, Boston, New Orleans, Peru and its own backyard in Rockaway and Breezy Point following Superstorm Sandy.
This year, SMCS came upon the unique opportunity to team up with Mustard Seed Communities, a non-profit organization dedicated to “caring for the most vulnerable populations in society.” These include children and adults with disabilities or those affected by HIV/AIDS, teen mothers and their babies, and those in need of proper nutrition or education.
Mustard Seed Communities operate out of four main hubs: Jamaica, Dominican Republic, Zimbabwe and Nicaragua.
With this new friendship established, 29 SMCS members, including students and faculty chaperones, headed to Nicaragua.
“Central America was one of the first places we had in mind to visit 10 years ago,” said Dougherty. “But we only found ourselves traveling there this past winter. It’s great to give the students a different experience year to year if circumstances allow.”
When the group arrived in the capital city of Managua, they traveled about one hour to a campus residence for young adults in Diriamba.
“It reminded me a lot of the young adult camps at Esopus,” noted Dougherty.
Once settled, SMCS sorted donations they brought from home, including medical supplies, clothing, toiletries, food, toys, and even a smoke detector. In all, over 10 luggage bags were filled with donated items for the Mustard Seed Communities children.
Our Stanners spent time with these individuals, played games, shared stories,and bonded in extraordinary ways. When not interacting one-on-one, SMCS also contributed some manual labor, working together to frame out and build a portion of a new extension for the school.
“Rates for Down Syndrome and other disabilities are up in Nicaragua, and so more classroom space is needed,” Dougherty said.
Students also took part in prayer time at the end of each day, which they conducted themselves.
These inspiring reflections were built in to the trip itinerary by MSC.
Madeline Gillooley, a sophomore, learned much from the children she worked with in Nicaragua.
“The children of MSC taught me that you don’t need material items or money to be happy,” she said. “They just wanted someone to love them. A hug was more than enough for these children to be satisfied.
“The way our students gelled with each other and with the Mustard Seed children was incredible,” Dougherty said. “Seeing the conditions and the level of poverty these children face every day was eye opening, and the perspective we gained reminds us to commit to service to others in the Marist way. This was an experience these kids will never forget.”