Students Choose Service Over Sunshine on Spring Break Immersion Program

One in 10 Holy Cross students left the typical spring break trip in the sand this past March, opting instead for a week-long adventure focused on service, justice and love.

The Spring Break Immersion Program (SBIP) is one of several opportunities offered throughout the academic year to engage in domestic or international immersion, encouraging students to engage with, learn from and stand in solidarity with communities all over the world. Sponsored by the chaplains' office, this year’s SBIP opportunities were embraced by 230 students who traveled to 23 sites in Appalachia, L’Arche communities and other special interest sites across the U.S.

Appalachia has been a destination for SBIP participants since the program’s founding in 1976. Today, Holy Cross students travel to 15 Appalachian sites within Kentucky, Virginia and West Virginia.

“I think sometimes people get caught up in the service aspect of the Spring Break Immersion Program rather than the immersion itself,” said Katie Evans ’17, a psychology and visual arts studio double major who performed community service in Barren Springs, Virginia. “People think about what they will be doing as opposed to the stories that they will be hearing and how those stories will mold their hearts. But after my experience, I know that when people talk about Southern hospitality, they are not just talking about the mounds of food. They are talking about the embrace. They are talking about a Sunday afternoon hike, the bonfire by the creek, and the voices raised in song and prayer. They are talking about the love extended by strangers. We might have raked leaves and shoveled gravel and cleaned fire trucks, but what we did was futile in comparison to the love that we received.”

Holy Cross also sent students to L’Arche communities in Alabama, New York, Missouri, Florida and Massachusetts. According to its website, L’Arche provides homes and workplaces where people with and without intellectual disabilities live and work together. Psychology major Sean Avery Pacheco ’17 spent his trip living alongside the residents of L’Arche in St. Louis, Missouri.

“We spent a lot of our time simply watching “Moesha” or “MacGyver” in the evening, putting together puzzles, and going on outings with our new friends and core members, Jim, Chip, Pauline, Rich, Amy and Jordan,” he said. “They showed us what true, open love is about. And our conversations with community leaders showed us social barriers that people with special needs encounter in their daily life. So different from each other, they each taught us a lesson about developing and fostering a culture of kindness.”

Apart from the Appalachia and L’Arche sites, students had the opportunity to engage in special interest efforts including homeless shelters, food banks, retreat centers and more across the country. Each location explored overlapping issues of oppression and poverty through hands-on work, study and prayer.

Mathematics major Emily Winn ’17 visited Camden, New Jersey.

“Ten of us stayed at the Romero Center, an outreach ministry involved in supporting different organizations throughout the city. Every day we visited a different site, including elderly care centers, a homeless day shelter, a soup kitchen, a neighborhood center and a thrift store,” she said. “We also toured Camden to learn the history of the once-thriving manufacturing city and its (current) economic struggle. The week was a powerful experience that taught us about the complexities of injustice in urban settings and the ongoing efforts against it.”

This was the 42nd year of the Spring Break Immersion Program.

This story was compiled by Mary Cunningham ’17 and Michelle Jin ’17