A few weeks ago, Siena Heights' Catholic Student Community on our alternative spring break service trip to Los Angeles, California. It was an incredible week filled with fun, laughter, service, growth as a community, as well as our spiritual relationship with God. There were six college students, a professor from SHU, and our campus chaplain that attended the seven-day journey. Throughout the week, we had the opportunity to experience the culture of Los Angeles through various worksites and opportunities.
To begin the week, we went to Saint Brigid’s Catholic Church. The mass was incredible and different than any mass I had ever been to (and the longest mass it was over two hours long.) It was a beautiful celebration of the Eucharist and all of the music was African American gospel music. We didn’t know any of the words to the songs, but it was nice to relax and listen to the beauty that was filling our ears. After celebrating mass, we went to the Getty Institute just north of Los Angeles. The views of the city and mountains were breathtaking. A picture could not even capture the beauty and tranquility that surrounded us. At the museum, there were multiple buildings with art from the 1770s to present day. I am not a huge fan of looking at art and analyzing it, but the one piece that really stood out to me was a miniature statue of a girl dancing. She was so free and happy. It was my motivation for the week to keep and open mind and a smile at all times.
On Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday we were at a thrift shop/food distribution center in Inglewood called the House of Yahweh. We helped the staff with various jobs like painting shelves, cleaning a garden, and helping in the kitchen to prepare for a community open house they were going to have later in the week. We also cut down and trimmed trees by the entrance gate to make the sign more visible. My dad will be so proud that all of his lessons on tree trimming finally could be put to use. This was my third year visiting and helping out. It has been fun to create a relationship and friendship with the people over the years. One that really has been an inspiration is a woman named Anna. She is 87 years old and still picking up 50-pound boxes and working 12-hour days in the kitchen. It is incredible! She is so stubborn, yet the sweetest woman I have ever met. She has a heart of gold and is so genuine in her work.
On Wednesday, after working a partial day at the House of Yahweh (we had to leave early due to the LA traffic-it took us 1 hour to go less than 10 miles one day), we ventured to an after school program for students kindergarten through eighth grade called El Santo Nino. We were there on Thursday and Friday as well. The children were so loving towards us. They rarely get visitors and were so appreciative that we were there to help out and hang out with them. One of the students that went on our trip chose the place for his final art project. He came and did art with the students, as well as made a mural for them with the help of the kids, especially the older ones. Every one was able to contribute to the masterpiece. It was two communities coming together to create something that they will be able to keep for a long time.
I interacted more with the younger kids and they thrived on attention. They were so silly and goofy and said exactly what is on their mind. They were all so incredibly happy all of the time. It was such a positive and enjoyable environment to be in. One of the kids liked to be ‘squished’ by me. He did not receive much attention at home; all I wanted to do was hug him and hold him close saying that he is loved and cherished. On the last day, his brother and him were so sad that I was leaving the next day and we wouldn’t see each other until next year (assuming I still have the opportunity to go to Los Angeles again.) They asked if I would remember them in eight months. Of course I would! They were such enlightening and grateful children who totally changed me. They helped me to become a more positive, joyful, and impactful person. When I was with them, I didn’t have anything to worry about. I could be free and live in the moment completely. Saying goodbye was incredibly difficult. It was one of the hardest goodbyes I have ever had to encounter. Even though, we were only there for three days, it felt like a lifetime. Receiving the final ‘hugs and squishes and laughs’ was heartbreaking. It took all I had to put on a brave face (thank goodness for sunglasses!) and face a goodbye that we had all been dreading. That goodbye made me realize how simply amazing God is. No matter what we have been through or where we have been, He brings people together for a reason. He has a purpose for what he does and wants one to get the best out of all they do, even if it is a challenge.
Thursday was our ‘let’s experience LA’s culture day.’ It began with a trip to Homeboy Industries. We toured the facility, heard an inspiring prayer, and had a wonderful meal. Our tour guide was so dedicated to his family. His face lit up when he talked about his son and daughter. He was sorry for the mistakes he made in his life, but was thankful for the opportunity to meet and work with Father Greg Boyle (the founder of Homeboys) because if he did not he would not be alive or the person he is today. Then in the afternoon, we were at a soup kitchen for homeless people on Skid Row. That was an experience that words or pictures cannot describe.
We attended mass each morning and in the evening we reflected on the day by having each person leading a prayer and discussion. Through these, we had the opportunity to evaluate and talk about our day: the people, how we made an impact, how it impacted us, and the sense of community we were building as a group. These reflections were a peaceful way to conclude the day, especially after serving others and spreading God’s love.
This trip has made me open my eyes and see that there are so many people in the world who need love. They have happiness, but to see their face when they received food or get a hug was adding more to it. I am looking forward to building the Siena community, as well as participating in more service opportunities in the future.