Zach Petroff | Opinions Editor
March 09, 2023
Traditionally, spring break is a time for students to cut loose and relax, whether it’s at home or on a beach. That was not the case for 11 Duquesne students, who spent their spring break in Texas volunteering their time to help the disenfranchised.
Students collaborated with the Spritan Office of Mission Advancement (SOMA) and the multicultural parish ministry at St. Benedict the Abbot Catholic Community in Houston to help people in need in the Houston area.
The parish is led by Vietnamese Spiritan priests Rev. Brandon Ngu Yen and Rev. Joseph Huy Dinh, whose congregation is centered toward the Latino and Black communities in the area.
“Meeting people in Houston, who dedicated their lives to helping others in and outside of their communities was inspiring, and it was an honor to work alongside their missions,” said Elisha Schoeneck, a sophomore health science student.
During their time in Houston, the group worked with the Mamie George Community Center, the Anawim Thrift Store of Magnificent Ministries to the Homeless and Loaves and Fishes Soup Kitchen along with helping out at St. Benedict and their host horse ranch.
“I think we served like 360 families that evening,” said Dottie Bateman, volunteer manager of the Mamie George Community Center. Families wait in a car drive-through line to receive grocery packages with produce, dry goods and protein, Bateman said.
Students were tasked with running the food distribution drive-through. They were in charge of handing out groceries, bringing items to vehicles and double-checking food items.
They also brought a level of contagious enthusiasm to the patrons and volunteer staff, Bateman said.
“They were very enthusiastic,” Bateman said. “I could tell that they were having a good time, and when the volunteers are having a good time, it’s a big impact on everybody.”
No matter the site the group worked in, the Houston mission centered around the Spiritan message of serving the less fortunate.
“It felt very spirited to be working there because the Spiritans are all about going and walking with those on the margins,” said student leader Tony Carbino, a fifth-year biomedical engineering student. “It was really nice because we got to work with members of the community, folks who are experiencing homelessness and the people that are working with them to help address the issue.”
While the work the team did had an impact, they were able to make connections beyond the mission.
“Our physical labor in Houston did help people, it was nothing permanent or life changing,” Schoeneck said. “What was though, were the friendships we made with each other and the people we met there.”
Students were able to not only network with other Spirtan congregations, but with students from the University of Houston and Rice University. The focus of this trip centered around fostering relationships with people.
“The trip is called a Spiritan Mission Experience, and the Spiritan method of service puts less emphasis on the work done, and more on connecting with and building relationships within the community,” sophomore Alexander Hajkowski said. “It feels more like working with friends instead of laboring for someone or some organization.”
The mission trip was not all work, as students were able to enjoy the city of Houston. Giovan Cuchapin, minister at Duquesne and the staff leader for the trip, was able to show students some of the area’s best-kept secrets.
Cuchapin, who considers himself a Houstonian and a Texan, was excited to show the students around his old stomping ground
“I know the nooks and crannies of Houston, Texas,” Cuchapin said. “I get to share with them the hotspots for gathering.”
Whether it was going to a rodeo, belting out tunes from Journey at karaoke or enjoying Boba tea in Chinatown, the students were able to celebrate their hard work by letting loose and hitting the town.
During one evening the students were able to attend the famous Houston Rodeo, which included a concert performance by Lauren Daigle.
“It was a great excuse to bust out my cowboy boots and hat,” said Grant Leemhuis, a senior business student.
Aside from the entertaining portions, the Houston mission trip also gave students a spring break with a sense of purpose.
“Having the opportunity to meet people, work in their communities and see the impact of our service in real time has been more fulfilling than I ever would have expected,” Leemhuis said. “The joy I get from helping others is more to me than anything I can think of.”
Some of the mission’s highlights came from simple moments—like speaking with fellow college students in the area, or being accompanied by a local dog on a morning run. The crew was able to formulate timeless memories while creating a bond with one another.
“People didn’t really bring their laptops or schoolwork, and we didn’t have cell service on the ranch we stayed at.” Schoeneck said. “It truly felt like a relaxing, fun and carefree spring break.”
The Spiritan Campus Ministry mission trips are open to all students regardless of religious affiliations. Students that are interested in the next trip, planned for the fall, can follow the Spiritan Campus Ministry at @scmduq on Instagram.