Bishop Feehan High School students learn impact 
of volunteerism during mission trip to San Diego 


By Tricia Svendsen
psvendsen@bishopfeehan.com

ATTLEBORO, Mass. — Five Bishop Feehan High School students witnessed the impact of volunteerism on their recent service trip to San Diego. The students — Abby Hallagan, Brianna Matte, Amelia Mignacca, Laura Smith and Mia Zona — signed on to a Young Neighbors in Action mission trip through the Campus Ministry Department at Bishop Feehan. 

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YNIA is a summer service experience for teams of youth and adults. Sponsored by the Center for Ministry Development, a national, non-profit agency, YNIA brings a strong, Catholic perspective to the work of assisting people in need.

These diocesan students were among a group of 70 teens hailing from Oregon, California, New York and Massachusetts, who traveled to St. Charles Catholic Church Retreat Center in San Diego. This was to be an opportunity to encounter Christ in service, in prayer and Eucharist, and in people.

The six-day trip found the youth assisting organizations that count on volunteers to accomplish their work. The Feehan students worked from nine to three each day with two food banks that were run by Catholic Charities, where they packed canned goods and other staples, counted out and packaged produce, met with individuals in need of support, and registered visitors to the food bank. 

Other groups of students were assigned work at different locations: at a refugee center, clearing trails in a park and painting at a pre-school.

Working with the individuals in need and the agencies that provide service was an eye-opener for the Feehan students. Participants learned about the work that Catholic Charities does in assisting people who are struggling with poverty and homelessness. Even though they didn’t get to see most of the families that benefited from the food (since much of the work is done behind the scenes), the volunteers interacted with a number of those who came for assistance. One challenge encountered was the language barrier with some patrons speaking only Spanish. 

Student-volunteer Abby said she could see Christ in the people volunteering alongside them, as well as in the people she was serving. Volunteers included senior citizens, intellectually-disabled adults and Latter Day Saints. Abby was particularly touched when an older man who was receiving his food expressed his gratitude saying, “God bless all of you. Thank you.” 

Mia found the dedication of the facility managers inspiring. In both food distribution centers there was only one paid staff person and many volunteers. These managers demonstrated exceptional skill in scheduling and supervising volunteers as well as serving the individuals who came for food and/or referrals. They exhibited a compassionate and joyful attitude in their work, and their welcoming demeanor was contagious. 

The themes of the YNIA week were “You are the Light of the World” and “You are the Salt of the Earth” (Mt 5:13-16). Participants learned that just like salt and light, which have properties to affect things around them, they, too, can deliberately seek to affect the lives of others, as they show them the unconditional love of Christ. 

Amelia reported that the YNIA experience taught her that being the salt of the earth means everyone “has the ability to make another person’s day better, whether we see the impact or not.” 

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At the Retreat Center, each day before they traveled to their worksites, and again in the evening, students took turns leading a prayer service. An adult Liturgist advised small groups of students who planned the services which included Bible readings, prayer, reflections and song. The youth were also responsible for cooking and serving meals for the other YNIA participants under the direction of an adult leader. The Feehan students enthusiastically took on these tasks and led services with song and prayer culled from their high school experience. The camaraderie they experienced with other participants was a key element of the trip. Here they were among others who shared their values, and as Brianna said, “They were not afraid to sing loudly and open up about their faith.”

Two Masses and some adoration time were meaningful parts of the YNIA experience. Students joined with their peers at St. Charles Church to worship and reflect on God’s role in their lives, their relationships with the people they met and the meaning of their presence in San Diego. 

Laura found adoration in the dark, candlelit church to be Spiritually transforming. She says “From that night on I could see God working through the people around me.” Encountering Christ in the Eucharist and in adoration helped all participants understand their role in being aware of the needs of others, their obligation to serve and their responsibility to return home with a heart eager to share. 

Amelia and Mia reflected that they were humbled by this mission experience, with one of the deepest Spiritual encounters being an evening prayer service held on the beach. In Amelia’s words, “After an evening swim in the warm, clear Pacific Ocean, under a beautiful pink and golden sunset, I sat on the beach with my peers, feeling very connected to Christ. We were singing and laughing with people we had just met, and it felt like we were truly brought together by Christ.”

Chaperones Alan Svendsen, vice principal of student life, and Tricia Svendsen, part-time librarian at Bishop Feehan, were amazed by the vigor with which the Feehan students fulfilled their assignments at the food banks. They saw the teens work efficiently and determinedly in their tasks, expressing great compassion for those they served. Their reverence and openness to all that was asked of them throughout the trip was key to this being a Spiritual and meaningful experience. 

The teens were impacted in many ways by their week of service. Abby said she has increased compassion for the homeless and those living in poverty. Laura found great happiness in serving and found the week a life-changing experience. All the Feehan students said they would recommend the YNIA experience to their peers, and all have returned with plans to seek local opportunities to serve those in need here in the diocese.


© 2019 The Anchor and Anchor Publishing    †    Fall River, Massachusetts