By Jason DiCenso ’22
Flashback to August 2018 and I was a nervous incoming freshman to Stonehill college. I knew I was going to join some clubs and groups, but never did I guess I would take part in a program that would impact me as much as the H.O.P.E Service Immersion Program did.
After going to an information session about the H.O.P.E program, I decided I wanted to apply. Hearing from the current H.O.P.E leaders and learning about the purpose of the program made me super eager to apply. I had done service trips before at my high school and had a great experience, and I was hoping to get that same experience from H.O.P.E. Flash-forward to mid-March; I had just gotten back from my H.O.P.E trip to West Virginia. The people I met, the stories I heard, and the things I learned (about both myself and the world) deeply impacted and challenged me.
Before the trip, my group met weekly to discuss and learn about the social justice issues that were our trip’s focus. A significant difference between this trip and my high school trip was these weekly meetings. Learning about the social justice issues and how much they affected the region of West Virginia that we were going to allowed me to better understand the people and culture of the area. At the start of the meetings, the group I was in was quiet, and we were all trying to get to know each other. However; after the icebreakers and name games, we were all growing closer and closer together. By the time we were back from West Virginia, our group was so much closer, and we are all now great friends. One of my favorite memories is all of us singing along to the song Take Me Home, Country Roads by John Denver as we crossed the state line into West Virginia. A great part of the H.O.P.E program is the community of other H.O.P.E members and leaders that welcomes every new member with open arms.
Finally, the time was here, and after weeks of learning about the social justice issues our group would encounter, we packed up the mini-van and all of us piled in and headed to West Virginia. The social justice issues we focused on were sustainability, poverty, and hunger. Throughout our travels, we met many people affected by food deserts, poverty, and adverse effects of the practice of mountain top removal, which destroys the landscape and pollutes water. We did as much as we could for as many people as we could. Along the way, daily reflections and discussions continued to bring the group close together and made the experience more personal. We were able to deal with our feelings about social justice issues in a safe environment.
One of the last days of our trip we met a man named Guy. After we worked on clearing out a warehouse that was going to be transformed into a shelter, Guy gave our group a little pep talk. In it, he said, “It’s not about the work you get done; it’s about the Relationships you build.” This quote put the experience of being in West Virginia into perspective for me. It’s not about saving the most lives or being recognized for doing service or anything like that. It’s about people being there for others and trying to spread hope to all. Now I am going to be leading a H.O.P.E trip with the goal of learning about more social injustices and how as a community, H.O.P.E and Stonehill can make a difference.