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Franciscan volunteer program offers alternative spring break

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Monday, March 30, 2009

By Carmen M. Hubbard

ST. MARGARET MARY DEANERY — Rather than head to Florida for sun and parties during spring break, a group of college students from Montana chose to serve those in need in Cincinnati by taking part in the Franciscans for the Poor Volunteer Program.

One aspect of the program it its  “Alternative Spring Break,” through which students from around the country participate in local service opportunities for one week. About 11 students from Carroll College — a diocesan college — in Helena, Mont., visited Cincinnati from March 7-14.

Carroll College students Veronica Crew, left, Nathan Scheidecker and Fred Collins work at Mercy Franciscan St John in Over-the-Rhine as part of the Franciscans for the Poor Volunteer Program. (Courtesy photo)

“I enjoy being able to see a large variety of people and chip in a tiny amount of time to help people who need it,” said Nate Scheideck, 20, a sophomore and English writing major at Carroll.

Students reside at the Tau Community House in St. Bernard during their stay. They begin each day with a morning prayer in the chapel and attend Mass next door at St. Clement Church. They choose from a list of outreach services to perform, such as visiting a women’s shelter and a food pantry and serving lunch to the homeless. The day ends with prayer and reflection on their experiences.

Chris Lemmon serves as director of the program, which also offers volunteer opportunities for young people, age 12 and older, and even retirees. She said the programs allow people to put their faith into action.

“It goes back to the ‘what would Jesus do?’ bracelet,” she said. “What I want them to do is to find their niche. The change is phenomenal. On Sunday, (students) come in anxious about the unknown. And then when they leave, they’re more caring. When a lot of people chip in to do small things, it makes a big difference.”

Franciscan Sister June Casteron, who serves on the program’s board, referred to Luke 10:27: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbor as thyself,” when it comes to students serving others.

“Often times in our society we speak of people in need as ‘them’ or as a number or a statistic that we read. Yet we do not really know or understand what we are speaking about,” Sister June said. “The students have various opportunities to encounter persons who are in need and live very differently from them. As they interact with those in need, they will often encounter God. They discover the ‘them of society’ are real people with needs, desires and hopes very much like (the students).”

Carroll College has participated in the Franciscan program for the past two years. The trip is sponsored by the college’s campus ministry. The ministry has a program for students called Headlights, through which they visit two major cities throughout the country as well as an Indian reservation in Montana.

“This is one of the flagship programs. Being a diocesan college, students can learn through service and humanity,” said Ashley Oliverio, public relations coordinator at Carroll College.

Mary Woelker, 20, a sophomore and nursing major, reiterated that Catholic means universal and people are essentially the same regardless of whether their basic needs are met.

“It’s real easy to forget that these are still our brothers and sisters. We have a responsibility to them,” she said.

Mike Lippman volunteers twice a week at the Tau House to assist with evening prayer and reflection. As a second-year diaconate candidate at the Athenaeum of Ohio/Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, he must complete a service project. While others chose to volunteer outside of Cincinnati, Lippman wanted to opportunities to help locally.

“God wants us all to reach out and help others. It helps us and it’s good for us to help them,” Lippman said. “These are middle class kids who go to high school and college and are insulated. They never encounter real people with real needs that need a hand up just like these students. It’s neat that they don’t miss out on the human dignity of the poor.”

For more information about opportunities with the Franciscans for the Poor Volunteer Program, contact Lemmon at 513-761-9040, ext. 110.

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