When most college students are at the beach during Spring Break, many Saint Leo students have a tradition of spending their time a different way. For these young people, the best way to take a break from classes is to help others through a program called SERVE (Students Engaged in Rewarding Volunteer Experiences).
Last March was no exception. Cassy Anselme ’15 was the student leader for a group that traveled to Memphis, TN. There, they volunteered at Catholic Charities and the Ronald McDonald House that serves St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. At Catholic Charities, they made floral arrangements for Bouquets of Hope, a program through which gently used arrangements from weddings and other events are repurposed into smaller bouquets that are delivered to people in nursing homes, hospitals, and hospices throughout the Memphis area. This program benefits the people who receive the bouquets, as well as the homeless who are involved in selling the bouquets as a way to start their own businesses.
At the Ronald McDonald House, the students cleaned and sanitized the whole facility—toys, door handles, windows, the fitness room—everything!
The group of 13 students was accompanied by staff members Mike D’Ambrosio, director of Campus Security and Safety, and Matt Battista ’08, ’12, assistant director of Career Planning.
“St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital is one of the charities that Saint Leo students raise funds for each year. The trip helped these students see where the money was going,” Anselme explained. “Taking one week off to help other people and make a difference—that was important to me. We focused on something bigger than ourselves.”
Another group of eight students, accompanied by Leann Spruell, undergraduate admissions retention advisor, and KJ McConnell, associate director of Residence Life, traveled to Ladyville, Belize, to work at Liberty Children’s Home during spring break. The Central American orphanage is a private nonprofit that provides a home for 42 children ages 4 through 17. The children are all in the government system; some are available for adoption and others have biological parents who visit when they are able.
The Saint Leo group slept in the orphanage dormitory and shared simple meals of rice, beans, flatbread, and some chicken (fresh fruits and vegetables are scarce). In the mornings they walked the children to school and then went to work. They cleaned, weeded, and planted in the greenhouse, organized the playroom, and provided groundskeeping duties. They also dug deeper drainage trenches, in preparation for the rainy season, and improved the playground by purchasing sand to replace the rough pebble surface.
The Saint Leo group enjoyed interacting with the children, playing and helping them with homework, but taking photos of the children was not allowed for two reasons. First, many of them are self-conscious and shy away from that kind of attention. Second, some of the girls have been rescued from human trafficking, so any photos could be a security risk.
“The trip was positive but eye-opening,” McConnell explained. “For a couple of our students, this was the first time they had been out of the country—and their first exposure to severe poverty.”
She notes that the staff is very protective and provides a family atmosphere for the children. “I hope Saint Leo can build a partnership with this orphanage and continue to send volunteers there for many years to come,” McConnell concluded.