Our Youth

Youth Insight: A Life-Altering Trip to Philly

The St. John’s Prep Red Storm descended upon Philadelphia, when 19 students from Astoria went to help and learn.


By Joseph Rodriguez

Nineteen students from St. John’s Prep, Astoria, volunteered in a low-income community in Philadelphia’s Germantown.

We spent this time with our campus minister, Ms. (Cristina) Varriale; English teacher, Mr. (John) Bethge, and math teacher Ms. (Denise) Hillig.

This excited group of New Yorkers stayed in the St. Vincent De Paul Center for three nights.

In the mornings, we gathered for breakfast and morning prayer. After our physical and religious appetites were filled, we prepared for a day full of service.

We divided into three groups, each one named after influential Catholics: Dorothy Day, St. Vincent de Paul and Louise de Marillac.

Each group spent its time in a different volunteer program. One group spent time with children in a school across the street from the center, where Ms. Hillig’s sister works. Another spent time with the elderly in a care center. And the last group worked alongside former convicts in a thrift store.

Afterward, we all visited elderly priests. The experiences that day evoked a sense of humbleness, empathy and gratitude.

The next day, we all lent our abilities in repairing homes for low-income families. We drilled holes, painted, fixed electricity and prepared the house for a new family alongside the contractor.

The weekend brought us all together as we spent time eating, talking and playing board games. We quickly discovered Ms. Varriale is not to be trifled with when it comes to charades.

I posed a couple of questions to two of my peers who attended the weekend.

I asked Catherina Gioino, a junior: “What was the biggest surprise of the trip?”

“The biggest surprise was how it humbled me,” she said. “Just seeing people who truly needed help made my problems seem so minor. It made me realize I really have a great life.”

“Would you tell others to volunteer?” I inquired.

Gioino excitedly replied: “Right away! People, you have to do this! It’s a life-changing experience!”

I also asked Nadine Metellus, a senior: “What was the best part of the weekend?”

“Definitely the service and the great feeling after volunteering and helping people who need it,” she said. “I also loved all the new people I met and how it strengthened my relationship with friends who came on the trip with me.”

I then asked if she would volunteer again.

“Yes!” she exclaimed. “I would sign up right now if Ms. Varriale said there was another trip . ..I would do it in a heartbeat.”

Personally, I am extremely happy and proud that I attended the volunteering experience.

It was the first time I had ever volunteered, and I was very nervous about the weekend. However, the kindness of all the students from St. John’s Prep and the teachers quickly dissipated the nerves.

The volunteering was done with smiles and laughs as we all enjoyed helping those who needed it. It gave a rush of good feelings every time you saw how gracious the people were for the time you spent with them. I’ll never forget that weekend and the memories we created.

Rodriguez is a senior at St. John’s Prep.