While many of their classmates were relaxing at home or on family vacation during the two-week spring break in April, six De La Salle Collegiate students and two adults spent time at Nazareth Farm Center in West Virginia.
Service Coordinator Jo Marie Ragona, along with theology teacher John Berlin, accompanied junior Julian Bourdreaux, sophomore Gabe Lueck, and freshmen Matt Lachajewski, Connor Baan, Peter Wotta, and Keegan Burns on the six-day service trip.
Along with students from five other U.S. high schools, including a Lasallian school from El Paso, Texas, the eight provided service at Nazareth Farm and in the nearby community in Salem, which is 120 southwest of Pittsburgh.
Traveling by rented van, the group lived at the farm, which accommodates 40 people. Young adults, called sojourners, sign up for a year or longer, and oversee the program. Started in 1979 by a religious order priest, there are now four Nazareth farms east of the Mississippi that follow a similar program.
The students hiked in local hills, and participated in a Eucharistic service, before beginning service projects on Day 2.
Each day opened and closed with a prayer. Students then worked each day on the various ongoing projects, mixed in with the students from other schools.
The farm chores included clearing a wood pile, chopping wood with an ax, mowing lawns, and working in gardens.
“I chopped wood with an ax, something I’d never thought I’d do in my life,” Ragona said,
Work in the local community included housing projects. Ragona said the families can handle their day-to-day expenses, but are unable to handle emergency expenses. The students helped with drywall repair, household siding, painting, and repairs at the local library.
Students paid a fee for the week, to cover the cost of the all-vegetarian meals, transportation, and boarding. De La Salle paid a portion of the fee.
Ragona said she heard about the project from a friend, and when she mentioned it to some students, four freshmen immediately signed up.
“I think the students learned how capable they are when they have to work outside of their skill set,” she said. “They learned about how other people live in another part of the country.”
Lueck said he enjoyed the trip.
“I’ve never been on a mission trip, and wanted to see what it was like,” he said. “I got to meet new people and learned how to do siding, drywall, and painting. I have never done anything like that. I would definitely go again if given the opportunity.”