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Iona College Students Moving the World, Through the Spirit of Domestic and International Service Immersion


New Rochelle, NY (July 10, 2013) Iona College students have been moving the world through their participation and commitment to service and cultural immersion on mission trips across the globe. Students and moderators recently participated in mission trips in the Agape Community, in Ware, Massachusetts, The Pilgrimage in Washington, DC, the Re-Member Project on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota and mission immersion in Zambia, Africa. “These service-learning opportunities are part of the fabric of the mission of Iona College to foster intellectual inquiry, community engagement, and an appreciation for diversity,” said Steve Hill, coordinator of Iona in Mission.  There were approximately a dozen participants for each of the four mission trips coordinated by the office of Mission and Ministry at Iona College.

The Agape Community hosts groups to engage them in environmentally sustainable living; to learn how working for social justice, living sustainably, practicing non-violence, and our faith are inter-connected; and to live in community with one another.  Simplicity became a reality through the students’ work in organic gardens and learning about vegetable oil fueled cars, straw bale houses, compost toilets, solar energy and wood stoves for cooking and heating.  The Agape experience challenges our students to begin to live sustainably and work for justice in order to build a new society in the shell of the old.

The week-long Washington, DC pilgrimage, a program of the Presbyterian Church of the Pilgrims, helped young adults connect their faith with social awareness and action. In doing this, the Pilgrimage builds communities where people are committed to eradicating hunger, homelessness, and poverty. The Iona in Mission team served in soup kitchens; at Charlie’s Place: a clothing and furniture distribution center for people who recently found housing; delivered food to inner-city schools and homeless men on the streets of DC; and visited Christ House which is a resident health care facility for homeless women and men to rest, eat nutritious meals, receive medical care and social services. The students also reflected with the National Coalition for the Homeless on poverty and homelessness by hearing the varied stories of men who have been homeless.

The South Dakota Re-Member project educates participants about the history, spirituality and culture of the Oglala Lakota Sioux Native Americans.  Serving in one of the poorest counties in the country with one of the highest teen suicide rates, volunteers engage directly with the Lakota through hands-on construction and home repair projects which include: affixing skirting to trailers; repairing roofs; applying siding to houses; and building bunk beds. Through presentations from Lakota leaders, volunteers develop a deeper understanding of the many abuses the Lakota have suffered for generations, but they also leave aware of some signs of hope and change on the Reservation.

The Zambia, Africa trip was the third consecutive mission immersion in Zambia hosted by the Christian Brothers. The immersion is built around working in various educational initiatives and learning the Zambian culture. The group served at various sites in Mazabuka, including: the Brothers’ Changa Changa community school and teaching computers at St. Edmund’s Secondary School; the Ndeke community school run by the Mercy Sisters; and the City of Joy which is a home for at-risk girls, run by the Salesian Sisters, that is opened to all children in the community during the afternoon for recreation, tutoring, and prayer.  Just as importantly, the group was deeply immersed in the Zambian culture through interacting in the market, celebrating with the Catholic community at Mass in the local dialect of Chitonga, learning traditional dances, learning Zambian history from the Brothers, and visiting Victoria Falls a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Reflections from Mission Trip Student Leaders

Trista Rivera, ′14              

“What’s in South Dakota?” was the question I heard countless times in the weeks and months leading up to May 25th, 2013.  From May 25th to the 31st I traveled with a group of ten students and a moderator to the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.  This was my second time working with Iona in Mission, but it was my first experience leading a trip.  The group I travelled with worked alongside Re-member, a non-profit organization that looks to improve the quality of life of the Oglala Lakota people.  The Iona team lived with other student groups and fellow volunteers in a dormitory-style building called Shelem.

Upon our arrival in the mid-western state, my team and I quickly realized the beauty that South Dakota encompassed.  We saw rolling grass hills and enormous mountains in the distance.  During our van ride from the Rapid City airport to the Re-member site we drove past weather-beaten trailers and stray clumps of garbage.  It was during that car ride that my team and I realized why we were called to serve in a place that is too often forgotten.

We spent our first afternoon on “the Rez”, exploring the Blackhills and visiting the site of the Massacre at Wounded Knee.  A native man took his time to tell us the story of the massacre and the great pain that Americans inflicted upon the native people.   It was sad to think that we had only learned about one fourth of the total truth regarding several horrific events during which Americans degraded the Native American culture.  The group of volunteers also learned a great deal about their culture during “Wisdom of the Elders” (listening to the thoughts of great Native American leaders and chiefs), and from the daily native speakers who were willingly to share their stories.

In addition to learning a great deal about the culture and the history of the Oglala Lakota people, we spent three days building, assembling, and repairing.  The various “work day” jobs included skirting a trailer, repairing a roof, fixing the siding on a home, and constructing and delivering bunk beds to families in need.  It was during these work days that we saw the devastating poverty that these people lived in.  The lack of material goods and unstable financial states led the Lakota people to appreciate everything they had.  They were proud of their homes and proud of the culture that they were a part of.  Their unselfish nature exemplifies that true meaning of the word give.  It is through these people that I learned a great deal about being content when I wake up to see yet another beautiful morning.

The unbelievable group!!—Kellianne O’Connor, Shanice Gilchrist, Mike Hodgen, Kristie Statuto, Cassondra Richards, Kate Ann Gonta, Megan Broderick, Diana Parlato, Ethan O’Sullivan, Lauren Keller, Carl Procario-Foley

Jessalyn Marconi, ′14

As the student leader of the Washington DC IIM trip, I had the privilege to lead nine other Iona students on an incredible journey with my moderator, Resident Hall Director, Jasmine Smalls. While on our five hour van ride to the heart of the nation’s capital, my team members and I prepared to work with an impoverished community.

On the first night in DC James, a member of the National Coalition for the Homeless (a national advocacy organization working to end homelessness), asked our group why we thought people lived on the street. Answers ranged from because people are lazy or fell into the wrong crowd, but few responses were because life happens and sometimes all it takes is one catastrophic event to turn your life from prosperity into poverty. James taught us that those who are impoverished are dealing with daily struggles just like us and that sometimes a natural disaster, a loss of your job outside of your control, or medical bills can consume your life instantaneously.

Our team learned more about helping the homeless than just working in a soup kitchen or a medical center. Serving others is a wonderful way to help those in need, but we must remember that poverty cannot be beat by treating those impoverished with unfair dignity. Serving others is a lot more than handing out a free meal, it is sharing a personal touch and connection that lasts longer than a day of service work.

I'm going to be a senior and graduate in May 2014. This is my fourth mission trip with IIM. Through this program you cannot be a leader without having previously gone on a mission trip with Iona.

Kimberleigh R. Costanzo, ′14

I am going into my senior year at Iona and this is my second mission trip experience, but my first as a leader. In 2011, I traveled to Zambia as a team member and was honored to return as the leader this spring.

My experience in Zambia was absolutely life changing. Our group of ten students and two moderators [Steve Hill, coordinator of IIM, and Christina DeCrescenzo, resident minister] worked with the Christian Brothers, and through them, got to experience the spirit of Edmund Rice at work. In their [the Christian Brothers'] schools and programs we taught students, we played with and cared for neighborhood children and we saw first-hand what poverty looks like in the developing world. As a team, we made connections to each other, to the country, to the culture, and to the people. We will never forget our experiences in Zambia or what it was like to put our faith in action and see the results of our work in the smiles on every child's face.

Founded in 1940, Iona College is a four-year private, coeducational institution of learning in the tradition of the Edmund Rice Christian Brothers and American Catholic higher education. It is a diverse community of learners and scholars dedicated to academic excellence and the values of justice, peace and service. Iona offers undergraduate degrees in liberal arts, science, and business administration, as well as Master of Arts, Master of Science and Master of Business Administration degrees and numerous advanced certificate programs.

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Dawn M. Insanalli
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