Teens who take a Spring break helping others really help themselves

CHARLESTON — Spring break does not have to be about the simple pursuits of sun and fun. It can also be about discipleship and stewardship in the community.

A number of students from the Diocese of Charleston and around the country put their faith into action during the annual vacation from school.

Father Marcin Zahuta, director of campus ministry at the University of South Carolina, took a group of 10 young adults to the Mustard Seed Community in Jamaica.

He said they raised about $15,000 to make the trip to the poverty-stricken island in the Caribbean, where they painted, farmed and spent time with children suffering from AIDS.

It is a different world from the one American teenagers are accustomed to; a world where meals are not a given and warm showers are nonexistent, Father Zahuta said.

“The work was kind of challenging. I was kind of amazed everyone worked so hard and nobody complained,” he said.

They attended Mass every day with the community, and held praise and worship sessions. Father Zahuta said he also offered the sacrament of re-conciliation to everyone. He hopes to make the trip an annual event, noting that his group left Jamaica more enriched than when they arrived.

“None of them will take the small things for granted anymore,” he said.

Another group of USC students who traveled to the beach for work instead of fun were those with Campus Crusade for Christ.

Reilly Blackwelder, a college sophomore, said they visited Florida International University and Miami Dade College, where they used a unique approach involving groups of photos to evangelize to other students.  

Walking up to strangers and engaging them in a conversation about Christ forced her to move out of her comfort zone and awakened in her a desire to be more active on her own campus, Blackwelder said.

“We’re called to tell people about the Lord and all the wonderful things he’s done in our lives,” she said.

During the six-day trip, the group of 63 students also held reflection and prayer services on the beach, where they were approached by curious vacationers and given the opportunity to evangelize even more.

Blackwelder, who attends Our Lady of the Lake in Chapin and St. Thomas More in Columbia, said she met many interesting people and hopes some of them were led to the path of God.

Younger teens were also moved by the spirit to give of themselves.

Students from Father Ryan High School in Nashville, Tenn., journeyed all the way to Charleston to help build homes for those in need through the Sea Island Habitat for Humanity program.

Tim Forbes, former director of youth ministry at Christ Our King in Mount Pleasant, has been dean of campus ministry and student life at Father Ryan for three years. He said 30 students signed up for the trip and he brought the first 12.

“Among our youth there’s a strong desire for something greater than just fun,” Forbes said. “They’re joy filled. It’s not something they’re doing grudgingly.”

Certainly the group of teens digging footers for a house on Johns Island seemed cheerful despite chilly temperatures and manual labor.

“I feel like I’m doing something for others rather than just myself,” said Kelsey Halpin, 17.

The 11 girls and one boy have undertaken lattice work, cleaned, built a shed, erected a chain-link fence, hung sheetrock, and dug footers.

“It’s really hard work, but we all came closer together as a group and helped each other out,” said Claire Stewart, 17.

Along with Kelsey and Claire, students included Ariel Newton, Lizzy Westbrook, Allison Abramo, Kevin Davis, Nina Fredericks, Amie Bradshaw, Rachelle Van Meter, Elizabeth Gentile, Olivia Baird and Mary Pat Conroy.

They said one of the most moving aspects of the trip was being able to work with the future homeowners, turning anonymous houses into a personal experience they will always remember.

The youth said they also attended an adoration service that was truly touching, and were able to visit Folly Beach and Camp St. Christopher.   

“You can’t take a bunch of landlocked teens to the coast and not see the beach,” Forbes said.

For students who still have Spring break coming up, there are other opportunities to help build and repair homes for the elderly through Home Works. Hank Chardos, director of Home Works in Columbia, said the organization is having a number of one-day sessions across the state in April and May.

Chardos said repairing the homes of the elderly leads to spending time with the homeowner.

He said it lets senior citizens know that people still care. The students learn repair skills and can put their discipleship to good use.

“The wisdom of the elderly is part of what they’re learning and they have the chance to spread their faith throughout the community,” Chardos said.

On April 18 Home Works will be in Myrtle Beach and Rock Hill; followed by Aiken, Camden, Charleston, Columbia and Fort Mill on April 25; Spartanburg on May 2; and Greenville on May 16.

For information or registration, visit www.homeworksofamerica.org.