Assumption Seniors Participate in Mission Work Virtually Across the Globe
The Assumption High School ARISE (Assumption Rocket Immersion Service Experience) Program is an opportunity for seniors to participate in mission trips across the country and world. The first mission trip began in 2003 and was a result of a senior dream, taking a small group of seniors to one site. The program has grown to six different site locations, some international. Hundreds of seniors have taken trips to Appalachia; Solsbury, IN, Cincinnati, OH; Belmont, NC; Washington, DC; Albuquerque, NM; Tucson, AZ; Belize; Nicaragua; and Jamaica. These trips all focus on addressing the critical concerns of the Sisters of Mercy: Earth, Nonviolence, Women, Immigration, and Racism.
Because the pandemic cancelled travel for our students, Assumption got creative in how to make this experience possible in a different way for our seniors. Program coordinator Lisa Wieland shared, “I wanted to continue the relationships we have with our partner agencies and give the students the opportunity to explore the mission of Catherine McAuley, founder of the Sisters of Mercy, and of Assumption High School. When I reached out those agencies, they were thrilled to work with me because they haven’t had volunteer groups since the pandemic began. They had REAL needs that our students could meet. From there, we worked on how to make those service projects work with the students working remotely.”
From there, the idea blossomed. Coordination with Hand-In-Hand Ministries in Appalachia, Belize, and Nicaragua; the Sisters of Mercy in Belmont, Cincinnati, Louisville, and Nashville; Franciscans for the Poor in Cincinnati; and the Mercy Institute Justice Team in Washington, D.C. resulted in a common refrain we heard repeatedly from each organization: Assumption was the first community partner to initiate a creative volunteer project through a virtual mission experience.
Since students couldn’t visit in person, their service projects took an innovative spin on what they would have done if they could travel. The students working with those in Nicaragua created movement videos for students in their school who are doing NTI, completed a letter exchange, and participated in a Zoom call with students to help with English and communication. Students working with those in Belize filmed house blessings for the families to be used after their homes are built. The students working with Auxier in Appalachia helped collect materials for welcome blankets for the clients who use their food pantry and other services. Another group wrote letters, creating connections with the Sisters of Mercy in the retirement community who have not had visitors due to Covid. Additionally, those who worked with the Mercy Justice Network lobbied virtually with legislators in Washington, D.C., on behalf of the Sisters of Mercy on the issue of voter suppression and election reform to address racism. The students working with the Franciscans for the Poor created chair exercise and entertainment videos for sisters in retirement communities and prayer services for volunteer groups to follow social distancing guidelines. Each of these projects met a dire need our partner agencies have been struggling with because of the lack of volunteers during the pandemic while also providing students with a real sense of what it means to do mission work.
Allison Ridenour, Hand in Hand Ministries director of Immersion Trips, said, “During these times, Hand in Hand has had to pivot to create new ways to engage our volunteers and donors. The activities the students were involved in during mission week helped brighten someone’s day, whether that was through artwork for our families in Appalachia, exercise in the form of drum cardio and student letters for Nicaragua, and using thoughtful words and planning a house blessing for a family in Belize.” Senior Abigail Browning, who created blessing videos for homes in Belize, shared “Usually you go on a mission trip and build houses for people and have a prayer service at the end and say blessings to each room.“ Instead, her group put together videos and sang “This Is the Day,” to send to Hand in Hand for those who don’t have in-person blessings at this time. “I’m personally really grateful to be able to have done this because it’s helping someone and making someone else’s day in a different place.”
Director of Campus Ministry Mary Ann Steutermann reflected on Mission Week, stating “At Assumption we strive to teach our students that no matter what obstacles are in their path, there’s always a way to address them in a creative, constructive way. This couldn’t be more true with our ARISE Program this year. We’re so grateful to so our community partners who made it possible for our students to live the cornerstones of mission work – prayer, service, simplicity, and community – even during a global pandemic.”