By Molly K. McCarthy, Writer-Editor, Office of Communications, Le Moyne College
Le Moyne College sophomore Mallory Difelice recently returned from an eight-day service trip to the Dominican Republic filled with gratitude for the people she met there. That included the caring tour guide who shared stories from his childhood and opened up about his relationship with God; the little girl Difelice tutored in math and with whom she forged a deep bond; and the people she met at a banana plantation, who modeled the dignity of work for her. The experience gave the physics major and aspiring engineer a new appreciation for all of the opportunities afforded to her through Le Moyne.
Difelice was among nearly forty Le Moyne undergraduates who spent part of their January break volunteering in communities in the United States and abroad. In addition to the Dominican Republic, they journeyed to El Salvador, Jamaica and Camden, N.J. These young people broadened their world view, made connections to those living on the margins of society, and learned what it means to be men and women for and with others. They lived out the values of simplicity, social justice, solidarity and spirituality. But perhaps most important, they grew closer to God and gained a deeper understanding of what they want their contribution to the world to be.
There is no doubt that service opportunities like the ones that Difelice and her peers participated in are an invaluable part of a Jesuit education. “I hope that these experiences add to the education our students receive, regardless of whether they are majoring in business, political science or biology,” said Alice Zicari, who directs domestic and international service opportunities at Le Moyne. “Beyond that, I hope that these service and immersion opportunities allow them to open their minds and to keep the poor in their hearts as they build their personal and professional lives. It’s easy to say I am for others and not act on it.”
Through participation in service trips, each of the Le Moyne students found a way to meet that challenge. Difelice and others who went to the Dominican Republic took part in the Caribbean Social Immersion Program, whose goal is to provide participants with a deeper understanding of the region from an economic, social, cultural and historical perspective. The students who traveled to El Salvador teamed up with CRISPAZ, an organization that builds bridges between marginalized communities in that nation and the rest of the world. The group assigned to Jamaica spent time with children at schools, visiting with the elderly at a nursing home, and assisting at a local outreach center. And, closer to home, the group that traveled to Camden, N.J., worked with elderly residents and those struggling with homelessness. The Jesuit themes of a preferential option for the poor, building community and growing closer to God were central to the students’ experiences.
“So often, in so many classes, it is stressed to be global citizens, learn about the experiences of others, and be willing to take a leap into the unknown,” said history major Michael Songer ’20, who traveled with Difelice to the Dominican Republic. “In theology and religion, I learned about social justice and standing in solidarity with the marginalized. In history and education, I learned about the importance of knowing history of places and about the lives of individuals. In the Dominican Republic, I did just that. In philosophy and critical writing, I was pushed to engage with the unknown, question, and search for a purpose or meaning in actions and ideals. In the Dominican Republic, I came with questions, and I left with perspective.”
Meanwhile, students like psychology major Katherine Locastro ’22, who went to El Salvador, discovered what it means to be truly active listeners, as they learned about the history of the nations they visited through the people they met there.
“This experience has added to the way that I value my education,” Locastro said. “I want my education to introduce me to other cultures and ways of life. I knew so little about El Salvador prior to this trip and it really made me aware of how consumed I am with my life in America. I worry about my grades and my own priorities so much that I often lose sight of the privilege of an education. Moving forward, I want my education to involve gaining more perspective and valuing the opportunity that I have to pursue my interests.”
For Difelice, traveling to the Dominican Republic gave her a greater understanding of her role as a citizen of the world, and her responsibility to care for others, to address systemic problems, and to act to solve them. It also gave her an important insight into her future.
“My time in the Dominican Republic transformed my previous love of travel into a love for the idea of travelling with purpose,” she said. “I hope that this experience will guide me in my future work as an engineer. I also hope that in the years to come. I can continue to travel to other countries with an open heart and a mind willing to learn and immerse myself in the lives of others.”