St. Joseph’s Academy students served the local community through two separate mission trips in their hometown. The first Baton Rouge Mission Trip experience took place June 4-6, while the second was held June 11-13.
Participants served at a variety of venues, including St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store, the Knock Knock Children’s Museum and St. Lilian’s. They helped facilitate an art camp for differently abled children, spent time with children and their mothers from the St. Vincent de Paul homeless shelter and participated in team-building activities at Christ the King Church and the LSU UREC.
SJA theology teacher Sheri Klemm planned the mission trips, which were chaperoned by Debbie Blanchard, Jade Spears, Katie Cahalan and Rachel Eddlestone.
Eddlestone said she was particularly moved by the relationships the students formed with the children and their parents from the homeless shelter. “I think it really put things into perspective for them and made them realize the simple things we take for granted in our everyday life,” she said.
Desha Martin is the volunteer coordinator at St. Vincent de Paul. She worked with Klemm to plan the St. Vincent de Paul component of the mission trip experience. “Quality of life is enhanced by laughter and fun irrespective of age, religious background, race or socioeconomic status,” Martin said. “It was wonderful to see dear neighbors from St. Vincent de Paul and St. Joseph’s Academy giddily playing together and enjoying each other’s company.”
The SJA girls spent time with shelter residents at the North Sherwood Forest BREC Community Park as well as on SJA’s campus. “I hope that our organizations will have many future collaborations that will help to further facilitate our understanding and appreciation of each other,” Martin said.
Sophomore Ella Aucoin said the interaction with the youngsters from St. Vincent de Paul was especially meaningful. “I felt that these kids needed us and were very glad to have us there,” she said. “It made me so happy to grow closer to a few of them and see how I could actually make a difference to them and maybe even their parents. This experience really sparked something in me to want to go on to do many more things to make a difference.”
Sophomore Ellen Livingston said the Baton Rouge Mission Trip was life-changing. “It opened my eyes to how much help our dear neighbors right down the street need,” she said. “It helped me realize how fortunate we are for the things we have because the people at St. Vincent de Paul have so little. Just getting a hot meal, a pair of shoes or even a warm jacket can make them feel loved and cared for. The trip was very eye-opening, and I truly think it changed my perspective on life and helped me understand how thankful I am for the things I have. It was extremely moving to see the people at St. Vincent de Paul because even though they were homeless, they were so kind to us and were just so thankful for even the tiniest of things that they got.”
Junior Mallory Matthews said working with the children from St. Vincent de Paul was a life-changing experience. “It made me realize how lucky I am to have shelter, food and a close-knit family,” she said. “The children were a true reflection of God's goodness. I realized how much joy those kids have even though they have such a hard life. It inspired me to be more positive about my own life. It was a very special week because I was able to grow in my relationship with God and make memories that will last forever.”
Junior Anna Camille Eagleton echoed similar sentiments. “It was a really wonderful experience that deepened my appreciation for all the blessings we have in our lives here at SJA,” she said. “It felt really good to get out in the community and serve. I especially loved going to the BREC Park and playing with kids from the shelter. It was really eye-opening to see that there were kids a lot like us living in the shelter. A few of my friends and I got to know the few teens in the shelter, and they are really sweet. We played foosball, air hockey and Pac Man with them, and it was honestly the best time I’ve had all summer.”
Sophomore Kelsey Brown said she was enlightened to the number of local residents impacted by homelessness and poverty. “I participated in the Bags of Hope program last year, filling bags with a chip, a snack and a drink,” she said. “Having the opportunity to pass out the bags as the individuals left the dining room gave me a deeper appreciation for programs like Bags of Hope and Sticker Sacks. I realized that while the bags may seem like something small to me, they mean so much more to our friends in need. I look forward to going on another mission trip soon and serving the dear neighbor.”
Klemm said the SJA students came to understand the level of poverty that exists in their hometown and to experience the joy of making a difference in the lives of those in need. When the shelter residents visited campus, Klemm said the older teens were able to speak with SJA art teacher Nicole Lane, who encouraged their artistic abilities. They also toured the Andrea Clesi McMakin ’74 STEM Lab and created keychains under the guidance of STEM Lab Director Claire Luikart and staff. “The teens were so proud of their creations and got to do something so out of the ordinary,” Klemm said. “It meant more to me than you can imagine when the typically shy and reserved teens hugged and thanked me for what they got to experience that day.”
Mindy Brodhead Averitt