Jackie Cannon ’20
Each holding a different instrument, we sat around the dining room table with Holy Cross students dispersed amongst AmeriCorps volunteers and community members, all of us singing and laughing. I could feel an overwhelming sense of joy and peace swelling within me as I looked around at all of these people I had grown to care about so much in the space of a week. Some of them I would never see again and others would return with me to Holy Cross, but everyone in the room had become family.
It sounds corny, but every Holy Cross Spring Break Immersion trip has magical experiences like this that will truly change how you view the world and how you view yourself. Holy Cross immersion trips are not about going to an impoverished part of the country for a week and doing “service” work; they’re about being immersed in a local community, and learning about the unique challenges they face, but also becoming a part of the passion and innovation with which they tackle those challenges. They’re about meeting diverse groups of people from every imaginable background. They’re about sitting quietly with someone who simply needs a friend to listen.
When someone asks me what the most impactful part of my spring break trips has been, I always think of Kate. Kate was our site leader at Grow Ohio Valley in Wheeling, West Virginia during my freshman year, and I’m still astounded when I think about everything she does to support her struggling but vibrant community. Kate opens her house, the House of Hagar, to people in her community who need a warm meal, who lack a place to do laundry or shower, or who just need someone to talk to. She also took the time to share her experiences and educate students like us about the challenges her community faces, so we could also go on to make a difference in the world. She embodies everything I hope one day to be: kind, selfless, passionate, and innovative.
Every immersion site has someone like Kate (or like Rev. Z, in the case of my trip to Roanoke last year!) There are three different types of Holy Cross immersion trips. The trips I have been on, lovingly referred to as “appa sites,” are scattered throughout the Appalachian region: Virginia, West Virginia, and Kentucky. These sights often focus on issues of rural poverty, although from many different perspectives and through a variety of experiences. L’Arche sites, scattered throughout the country, are communities where individuals with and without disabilities live in fellowship. Finally, “Special Sites” include cities like Alamosa, Colorado and Chicago and cover a wide range of experiences.
I’ll be honest; signing up for SBIP, especially as a first-year, can be incredibly nerve-wracking. You’ll be plopped down in an unknown city or town, surrounded by roughly ten strangers that you can’t imagine having anything in common with. Yet, I guarantee that by the end of the week, you’ll be heartbroken to leave your new favorite city or town, and you’ll be sitting with ten new best friends on the bus ride back. You’ll be speaking with so many inside jokes that the other Holy Cross groups that join you on the bus won’t even be able to decipher what you’re saying, but they won’t notice because they’ll have their own jokes to laugh about (@Roanoke fam: never forget the two-bite brownies!)
When I think about Spring Break, I think about waking up to laughter and clanging church pipes as members of the Mt. Zion AME church took time out of their day to make us breakfast. I remember feeling overwhelmed with the beauty of Wheeling, WV as we cleared leaves on a hillside overlooking the entire city on a warm spring day. I miss runs to McDonald’s for “shammy shakes” as “Green Light” blasted on the radio. I think about watching the candle softly flicker during our nightly reflections. I laugh about Carl from the Rescue Mission in Roanoke shouting, “hands, feet, praise, one more time!” before we started our day serving in the soup kitchen. I cherish the faces of the people I met who left their mark on me and inspired me to become who I am today.
It’s hard to distill everything about my spring break experiences into a few words because it’s just such an amazing experience that I truly believe everyone at Holy Cross should have at least once. My first immersion trip became a key piece of who I am today, including my friends, my major, and my career interests. It has made me so much more aware of the beauty in the world, and I still can’t think about my immersion experiences without a smile blossoming.
My immersion groups have become my family, and they were the first people I told when I found out I would get to be a leader this year. After everything I have learned from my past leaders and group members, I can’t wait to share that with the next generation of Holy Cross students. If there’s only one piece of advice I can give to students (not just first-years!), it’s to do spring break immersion. I guarantee you won’t regret it, and you’ll walk away with a new way to look at yourself and at the world.
Check your email for the Immersion application, which is due on October 25!