Holy Cross as a Jesuit school teaches the message of becoming men and women for and with others, emphasizing the importance of service. While Holy Cross offers plenty of opportunities to conduct service on campus and in the city of Worcester, an opportunity unique to the school is the chance to travel over spring break to another part of the country, serving a community beyond just Mount St. James.
Every year, the Chaplains’ Office organizes the Spring Break Immersion Program, or SBIP, an opportunity for students to travel to serve different communities across the country, ranging in sites from Kentucky, Alabama, to Colorado. The purpose of these trips is to conduct direct service and foster connections with other communities, immersing yourself in a life different than your own. Every year, around 250 students travel in student-led groups, working in churches, schools, community centers, soup kitchens and different community landmarks across the different sites.
Last March, I got to travel to Narrows, VA through SBIP (fun fact-Dirty Dancing was filmed there!). I was the only freshman in my group, travelling with nine other students to serve the town of Narrows. Although this trip was daunting, as I was the only first-year in my group travelling with people I had never met before, this wound up being the most rewarding and affirming experience of my first year at Holy Cross.
During my trip, my group and I stayed at the Narrows Parks and Recreation Center, and worked at different sites in town. Each day was different, and each of us were able to work in a variety of service activities. We worked with the librarian in the town public library, helping renovate the library, rearranging and reconstructing shelves, organizing the books and reordering the books on the shelves under a new system of organization. We also got to work with town municipal workers, building park benches and trash can holders to be used throughout the town park grounds. Since Narrows is located in the Appalachian region, we were able to hike some of the trails and help clear debris with a local guide, making sure trails were safe for tourists. Through my service, I got to do things I never thought that I would have the chance to do, and got to become immersed in a beautiful town I never would have travelled to if it had not been for SBIP.
My group and I also had the chance to get to know the community beyond our service. Every night, different churches would host potluck dinners, serving delicious homemade food. We would eat with community members, and they were so kind and eager to get to know us. I still keep in touch with some members through social media, and will cherish the connections I made there outside of the service for the rest of my Holy Cross experience. The town not only fed us, but entertained us as well. Every night we were invited to a town event to further immerse us within the community. My group and I got to go to a Haunted House organized by the town, did karaoke, and we even went to a performance by a local lawyer who also worked as a children’s party entertainer as a magician and balloon animal artist. My experience was something I will never forget, fostering these unique connections with a community that was so generous and kind, shaping my experience beyond just the service aspect of the trip.
These connections with other communities are as important as the ones you make with other Holy Cross students. You form a strong connection with other students you may not have met outside of SBIP, bonding with one another through this experience in a way that is different to other connections you make on campus. Every night, to conclude your day, you reflect upon the day’s work and experience with your group members, making sure you get the most out of every aspect of your trip, deepening your bond with your group members. This bond does not exist solely during the trip, but gets carried back to campus. I still stay in frequent contact with my group, despite three of our members having graduated, and some members currently studying abroad.
Spring Break Immersion is something unique to Holy Cross, and oftentimes can be overlooked by students. It is an opportunity not many schools offer, and is something that many students identify as a Holy Cross Bucket List experience. I can say with complete confidence that this experience was the best experience I have had at Holy Cross thus far, deepening my commitment to the school and to service.
Michaela Lake ’22