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Leading Through Service


A Way of Life at the Mount

With the outbreak of COVID-19, College administrators made the tough decision to halt all domestic and international travel scheduled for the spring break period. This included study abroad trips, travel for sports teams, and—unfortunately—alternative spring break service trips.

While the announcement offered upsetting news for the College and eager student travelers, the effort was established to protect the health and well-being of the greater Mount Saint Vincent community during this unprecedented global pandemic.

But that still didn’t stop the disappointment in the hearts of a group of students looking forward to serving with the Christian Appalachian Project in Kentucky.

“It was a tough call to make,” said Director for Mission and Ministry Matthew Shields. “Our student volunteers were looking forward to helping rebuild the homes of struggling communities in Kentucky. However, they also understood that staying home to prevent the spread of COVID-19 was another form of service.”

Despite setbacks happening in the current day, two groups of student volunteers embarked on trips across the country to offer a helping hand to those in need back in the chillier days of January and before the pandemic.

Olivia Hilliard ’21 and Megan Neiswenter ’23—accompanied by Campus Ministry Graduate Assistant Kayla Ortiz ’19 and Frances Keegan, S.C.—were greeted by sunny skies and warmer temperatures in New Orleans, Louisiana for a week-long stay at the House of Charity. A sponsored work of the Sisters of Charity Federation, young women from several Sisters of Charity orders came together to rebuild homes still damaged from Hurricane Katrina in the Lower Ninth Ward. Partnering with the St. Bernard Project, Olivia, Megan, Kayla, and Sr. Fran cleared yards, painted siding, and sanded drywall in homes filled with the hope of restoration.

Student cleaning a window.

Their week wasn’t just all work and no play; the group also enjoyed beignets at the famous Café du Monde and even got to watch the first parade of Mardi Gras!

“This was my second year traveling to New Orleans,” said Kayla. “It was rewarding to pass by the houses I helped work on last year and see them completed. Displaced people finally have a place to call home, and it makes me happy to see how much progress was made in just one year.”

Student working on building a house.

Up north, Campus Ministry’s other Graduate Assistant, Owen Smith ’18, led Emily Perez-Garcia ’22 and Kathleen Stack ’21 on an eight-hour drive down to Bethlehem Farm in Alderson, West Virginia. While in Appalachia, Emily, Kathleen, and Owen helped carry on Bethlehem Farm’s mission of living out the four cornerstones of community, service, prayer, and simplicity. After some winter weather left the groups snowed in and unable to travel out to the community for a day, the students were eager to finally meet local homeowners and help install a new roof, rebuild a porch, and prepare gardens for the growing season. They also learned more about simple living by giving up technology for the week, eating organic farm-to-table meals, fasting from electricity use, and spending lots of time in prayer and reflection.

Group of student leaders in front of Bethlehem farm.

“At first I was nervous about going to a place where I wouldn’t be able to use my cell phone or be able to take a shower every day,” explained Kathleen. “But, I quickly jumped into the community of the Farm and loved every minute spent learning about life in Appalachia.”

Sunset in West Virginia

By participating in Mission and Ministry trips, students gain a deeper understanding of the College’s mission—to foster an understanding of our common humanity, a commitment to human dignity, and a full appreciation of our obligations to each other. Mount volunteers are able to engage in a new culture, whether it be domestically or abroad, and learn more about what it means to be a servant leader.

Matthew further explained that students often “gain so much more than they give on these trips. They’re just a small piece of a larger solution—taking the knowledge they learn in the classroom and transferring it to practical use in the community.”

At Mount Saint Vincent, serving those on the margins is much more than just an extracurricular activity. Whether volunteering to feed the hungry in New York City or repairing homes across the country, Mount students are living the mission of the College through every sandwich they make and every nail they hammer.

“Our student volunteers are learning about the education of the whole person—not only are they helping feed people physically, they’re also nourishing spiritual souls,” Matthew stated.

With the warmer months ahead and the hope of a worldwide recovery from COVID-19, many students are excited to be back in action serving the needy—bringing food to those on the streets of New York, returning to Bethlehem Farm as summer servants, and even traveling as far as Africa to volunteer with the Vincentian Lay Missionaries in Ethiopia.

Group of Mount leaders in service.

Mount students each have a unique commitment to service—all together participating in over 10,000 hours of volunteerism every year.

That’s why service is a way of life at Mount Saint Vincent.

About the College of Mount Saint Vincent
Founded in 1847 by the Sisters of Charity, the College of Mount Saint Vincent offers nationally recognized liberal arts education and a select array of professional fields of study on a landmark campus overlooking the Hudson River. Committed to the education of the whole person, and enriched by the unparalleled cultural, educational, and career opportunities of New York City, the College equips students with the knowledge, skills, and experiences necessary for lives of achievement, professional accomplishment and leadership in the 21st century.