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Farm Work Forges Friendships and Faith

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Story & photo by M.D. Pitman

The quarterly trek the young women from Mount Notre Dame and Seton High Schools take are about much more than just helping some of south-central Kentucky’s farmers tend their land.

It’s a spiritual journey that teaches the students about humility, kindness and fellowship all through the shared experience of hard work. Todd Forman, the organizer of the four-times-a-year trip and Mount Notre Dame teacher, said the work the students and adult chaperones perform side by side is a “really unique experience” craved by the body.

I think our bodies, our souls, really crave simplicity, being rooted, playing in the dirt,” said Forman, who’s organized this trip for more than three decades, and the last eight years with Seton High School. “We don’t do enough of that, especially these young kids. Just enjoying living in the moment, not having technology connected, it’s just really liberating on a deeper level.”

This past fall trip in October, more than 80 young women from both schools visited Liberty, KY, about an hour southwest of Lexington, home to just over 2,100 residents.

It’s in this small town where bonds between the two schools have been made, and friendships forged.

This year’s October trip was the third for Seton junior Emily Durr, and the fifth for Mount Notre Dame sophomore Allie Gardner — best friends because of the Liberty trip. This past summer, Gardner shared with a group that went to the Nolts family farm about how her paternal grandparents died a week apart this past winter. Durr was a part of that group.

Their friendship sprouted when Gardner shared her heartache, but it was cemented when on the same farm the group went to a nearby creek, and Durr said she and Gardner fell under the water. Friendship by baptism.

“If we both didn’t go to the Nolts [farm], I don’t think we would have been so close,” said Durr, who lives on Cincinnati’s Westside.

Even though they live nearly an hour away, they either see or talk with each other every day, said Gardner, of Mason. “It’s a little hard, but we try,” she said.

Having the girls come down for a couple of days to work is “so encouraging,” said farmer Jerome Lange. And he prays for them all because “prayer never hurts.”

“Sometimes, I wonder where the civilization is going, and you see 80 young, Catholic girls, and they’re all smiling, and they’re all getting along, and it’s just heartening.”

With the girls were 15 chaperones from the two schools, including the father of one of the Mount Notre Dame teachers.

Mark Stamer planned to spend time with his daughter, Mount Notre Dame Latin teacher Lindsey Stamer, on her 25th birthday, but she had committed to the trip. But a couple of weeks before the trip, Mark Stamer was asked to drive and be a chaperone, and be with his daughter on her birthday.

“The experience was fantastic,” said Mark Stamer, who has spent his life dedicated to aspects of service, including as a scout leader. He said he’s never seen anything like this trip, calling it “very special” as the girls interact with different people from all walks of life from a different part of the county. “It’s great to see two schools coming together to work together,” he said.

Durr and Gardner said this service trip has helped them push the figurative reset button on their lives.

“Life gets hard back in Cincinnati,” said Garnder. “There are issues with every family, and this is the kind of a place you can let go of all those insecurities, all those problems and get to know girls.”

Going on this trip for the first time was an immediate “yes,” for Durr and — like many of the other girls — she began talking about her next trip before leaving Kentucky.

“My dad really got me into service,” Durr said. “His view on life is when you help others, that’s when you find yourself the happiest.”

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