When most people envision college spring break, they think of teenagers partying on the beach without a care in the world. However, in the Manresa Program, we do spring break a little bit differently. Every year, we offer an alternative spring break option that we call the “Manresa Urban Immersion in NYC Service Learning Project.” It is a three-day service project in which we focus on simple living in the Jesuit tradition, and work to inform students about the value of giving to others, especially the poor and marginalized. Living in the Bronx, there is so much suffering and poverty right outside our gates, and we want to make sure that, just because students are living in an enclosed and privileged community, they do not forget what is going on in the world in our own backyard.
We began the service project by watching a documentary about the disparity between the rich in NYC and the poor in the Bronx along Park Avenue, home to the greatest number of billionaires in NYC. Watching Park Avenue: Money, Power, and the American Dream enabled us to prepare for the service work that we would be doing during the next few days and helped to spark our understanding of the large gap between social classes.
The next day, we woke up bright and early, ready to learn more about the world around us, and what we could do to help those who may need it more than we do. We went and spoke to the 8th graders at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Grammar School, the local Catholic school in the Bronx, at which our students regularly volunteer. We discussed with them their fears regarding going to a new high school and college in the future and gave them advice on what they can do to start prepare for their education.
Later in the day, we went to Part of the Solution (POTS), an organization that works with impoverished and homeless people in the Bronx, and we helped to serve lunch to those in need. It was definitely a wake-up call to see how some people had to carry all of their belongings with them when they came to get, what could possibly be their only meal of the day because they did not have a home to leave them in.
The next day, we ventured into Manhattan and went to the United Nations. We saw an exhibit on display that described different sustainable practices that are occurring in various third-world countries and small communities in order to improve the environment and the living conditions of their inhabitants. We also went to the Museum at FIT to check out their exhibit entitled, “Fairytale Fashions.” This exhibit featured elaborate clothing designs modeled after different folklores and fairytales. The contrast between the sheer amount of wealth and extravagance seen on these costumes and the poor communities in which fairytales originated for the purpose to entertain the children who could not afford alternate entertainment was striking.
We rounded out our service project by volunteering at the Bartow-Pell Mansion and Museum’s Annual Easter Egg Hunt, the same event that a different group of our students helped to prepare for the week before. Here, we helped to run the Easter Egg Hunt for children of the Bronx and the surrounding areas, ages 7-12. After all of the different groups of people who we encountered on our service learning project, people of all ages, socioeconomic statuses, genders, and races, helping to provide a way for children to take time to enjoy themselves with their families seemed like the perfect way to end our weekend. After all, children are the future right? They hold the key to the future generations, and if we want to mend the suffering in our world, we have to start somewhere.
Nicole Benevento, FCRH 2017
Manresa Scholars Program Intern, 2014-2015 and 2015-2016
In-House Academic Tutor, 2016-2017