When college students travel during the winter semester break, it’s rare they do so to harvest potatoes, pick carrots and feed the homeless – unless said college students attend Niagara University.
Thirty-seven students from the Lewiston-based, Catholic and Vincentian university volunteered earlier this month to assist the less fortunate in underserved sections of Camden, New Jersey, Philadelphia and the Republic of Panama. The pilgrimages are part of the university’s Brothers and Sisters in Christ program, or B.A.S.I.C. as it’s referred to on campus, and offered through Niagara’s office of campus ministry.
“I decided to return to Camden this year, because I was truly touched and inspired by the caring individuals we met last year who made a difference in the poverty-stricken community,” Diez said. “As a future ESL teacher, it is my goal to contribute to the development of school classrooms that strongly value diversity and multiculturalism, and provide equal opportunities to learn for all students. The diverse population of Camden’s city schools and high population of English language learners (43.9 percent of students, as of 2015) also contributed to my interest in returning, since teaching English to speakers of other languages is my future career path.”
Along with assisting in schools, the NU students in Camden worked at a soup kitchen, met with local youth groups, attended bilingual Mass, volunteered at a homeless shelter, spent time with impoverished children and elderly in the community, and participated in community cleanup projects in parks and alleys.
“What stood out to me was not only how welcoming the people of Philadelphia were, but how thankful the people were that we had traveled from so far to serve. Even the children in the after-school programs were ecstatic to see us every day,” noted the Niagara Falls resident. “The experience showed me that what Niagara is doing makes a difference. Every action, no matter how seemingly big or small, has a powerful effect.”
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