Summer service projects bring students out of comfort zone

Courtesy of Ursuline Academy

The 12 rising juniors and two teachers from Ursuline Academy had no experience using power tools. However, this didn't stop them from traveling June 9-13 to Joplin, Mo., to help build a house for an elderly woman whose home was destroyed in the 2011 tornado.

The biggest challenge of the week, said Caroline Adams, a student at Ursuline Academy who spent the week putting siding on the house, was "to overcome" her fear of making mistakes, "to finish tasks I didn't know I could do."

This is the school's second year of traveling to Joplin to help rebuild homes through Rebuild Joplin. While there, the students sided the house and put up drywall, mud and tape inside of the home. In the evenings, they reflected on the day and joined in night prayer. The participants slept in bunk beds in boxcars and blogged each day about their experiences. The girls also got to see a family cut the ribbon for their new home built through Rebuild Joplin.

"They totally got out of their box, their little comfort zone," said Katy Pawlowicz, who chaperoned the trip and taught business technology and health at Ursuline Academy before retiring at the end of the school year. "They learned some new skills and had more appreciation for those in that field of work and for their home."

Service is foundational at Ursuline Academy, which has a motto of Serviam, Latin for "I will serve." This past week, members of Ursuline Academy's rising sophomore class served as camp counselors at Whole Kids Outreach in Ellington, Mo., a camp for children who live in poverty. Seven other students leave this week for London, where they will serve for two weeks with sisters and students at an Ursuline-sponsored school.

Ursuline Academy is one of several schools in the archdiocese that provide opportunities for students to serve others in the summer months through group service trips. This past week, nine students from Chaminade College Preparatory School traveled to San Salvador, El Salvador, where they served with an organization called Project FIAT. Earlier this summer, Chaminade students also helped in St. Louis at social justice ministries and in Warfield, Ky., where they helped build a house.

Students from Cor Jesu Academy have served this summer in Hamden, Conn., Greensburg, Pa., and St. Louis. Other students from the school will travel to Bronx, N.Y., and the Winnebago Indian Reservation in Omaha, Neb., in the coming weeks to serve. Students on these trips have helped children with developmental disabilities and worked in a food pantry and will perform manual labor.

Sister Peggy Moore, OSU, who teaches theology at Ursuline Academy and helped lead the Joplin trip, said the Ursuline students grew in self-confidence throughout the week, learning not just about construction but also about themselves.

The construction work initially "was kind of intimidating," Adams said. "But it's all really cool at the end of the week to look (at the house) and say, 'I did that.'"

Pohlman is a summer intern at the St. Louis Review.

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