On the 30th anniversary of Assumption College’s SEND program, Vincent Sullivan-Jacques, assistant director of campus ministry, explained the significance of the SEND program in promoting relationship-based service. The program gives students at the college in Worcester, Massachusetts, the opportunity to put their faith into action, traveling to domestic and international communities to help make a positive difference. Haley Chappell, a 2016 Assumption College graduate, and Eduardo Rivas, a graduate assistant who has led several SEND trips, shared their experience traveling to Ecuador and how it has had an impact on their spiritual journey.
The SEND Program: Vincent Sullivan-Jacques
How did the SEND program get started?
Vincent: It started as Mexico Mission in 1986 with a coordinated effort to create an Assumptionist community just outside of Mexico City. It operated there until there was student demand for domestic trips.
How are the destinations chosen?
Vincent: Some of the early Habitat for Humanity trips, whether in Baltimore or Pennsylvania, were started almost 10 years ago, and they have been good partners. Other trips have either been due to an Assumptionist connection, or through other Catholic organizations such as Catholic Charities, Faith Justice, or Rostro de Cristo. In Camden, New Jersey, we work with Romero Center Ministries, a Catholic lay center that focuses on social justice and Catholic social teachings. Other trips have been chosen through my own research. On SEND Florida and SEND Pine Ridge, students work with social justice issues that we might have a harder time recognizing in the Northeast, whether it’s justice on reservations or the Native American experience, or in Florida dealing with fair food movements.
Why are these trips so important?
Vincent: We want students to look within and recognize their God-given gifts, skills, and talents. We want them to consider the needs of our world and find meaning in their service, their volunteerism, and their desire to immerse themselves in another community. We feel we are doing the students a service by challenging them to go to places where they wouldn’t otherwise go, or wouldn’t feel comfortable going without the partnerships. As an outsider, you can be viewed as a little intrusive, especially if you have the notion to do good. There’s more to it than that. A lot of it is the trust in our partners that have a long-lasting relationship with the community. We promote a valued, relationship-based approach to immersion. We offer our willingness to learn from other people about their culture, experiences, and challenges. A trip is only the beginning of respecting that relationship. We want the students to choose a life with meaning and put their faith in action to make a difference in the world.
Is there a lasting impact on community?
Vincent: Over the past 25 years, Rostro de Cristo has had thousands of visitors. In some regards, the most reassuring thing to these people is that others are spending a lot of money to travel and visit them. The trips are conducted in a way that reaffirms their dignity as people so their cause is lifted up and given a voice. We’re not the only groups that go here, so the lasting impact is that people have invested their time and concerns in an area and brought those concerns back.
Is there an impact on the students?
Vincent: First, they form that community, which is an essential component of our service. These trips are twofold: the relationship with the community and the interaction with your group. Students are lifted up by the opportunity to get to know a group of people they wouldn’t otherwise have met. They’ve considered their skills and gifts, and they are ready to apply them. Even better, they come back with passion. We hope that a SEND trip moves them on their spiritual journey, enabling them to put their faith into action.
How can people get involved?
Vincent: We’re always looking for people to support the good work of the students who enrich the lives of other communities. I would also encourage providing financial aid to students who can’t afford to go on the trips. We want to make it possible for everyone, not just those who can afford to make the trip.
SEND Ecuador: Haley Chappell
and Eduardo Rivas
What role did your faith play in your decision to go to Ecuador?
Haley: I felt a true tug at my heart to go to Ecuador. Sometimes you just feel a fire in your soul to do something, and I felt this for Ecuador. I felt God wanted me to learn something, and I sensed that this trip was going to give me that lesson in a real way.
What work did you do?
Haley: We did not build homes; we built relationships. One of the most important pillars of Rostro de Cristo is hospitality and being with the beautiful people of Monte Sinaí. We were there to affirm their stories and struggles. These people need to be recognized. They do not need their problems solved; they need aid to solve their problems on their own.
Eduardo: I think what makes a trip successful is going with an open mind, being willing to develop a different opinion. Instead of merely donating money, you go to make something — to construct something there. You donate your time. You communicate with the people. You listen to their stories, talk with them, share time with them. You see how even if people don’t speak the same language as you, you can still share time with them.
What did you learn?
Haley: We visited Hogar de Cristo, where we met Señor Luis. He said that people need to learn to take 15 minutes a day for themselves to contemplate where they saw God and who they saw him through. This lesson helped me to center myself on the positive and discard the negative. These people had nothing, yet they were so thankful for what they did have. It is not about the materials a house is made of — it’s about the people who live in it.
Eduardo: You learn about the people. You learn not to complain when you see that some kids there don’t even have shoes; they have to walk everywhere. Even at 9 years old, they have a lot of responsibilities. You see how people in other areas of the world struggle, and yet they are still happy.
What was the most surprising thing you saw?
Haley: The people there were truly happy within their souls. One woman, Jessica, has a child with lupus. Instead of feeling disheartened, she said that life “is a lottery, and she won.” She didn’t want to be pitied. She loved her daughter the way she was, accepting the disease and confident that her daughter will come out stronger from it. She didn’t care about the expenses; she just loved being with her family. Everyone there had joy, faith, and true happiness.
Eduardo: When you go there, Rostro tells you that you can’t give material goods to the people. They know when you see people living in certain conditions, you will feel that you should give them something. They tell you not to, but at the end of the trip, if you want to donate your clothes or money, you can donate them to Rostro to better the community. They don’t want the people who live there to think that we are coming just to give them money or things. It has more value that we go instead to give our time.
What was the most inspiring thing you witnessed?
Haley: For the people, faith is one of the foundations of their lives. We participated in a Mass at the local church and watched a confirmation ceremony, and I was shocked at how similar it was to ours. Mothers and fathers took photos of their children, and they cried and clapped like any other parents. But their faith went home with them after church and helped them to believe they will be OK if the power went out or there was no water that day. Their faith remained through the hardships.
Eduardo: I saw a lot of good things there. Playing with the kids at the after-school programs was probably the best part for me. I realized that I am very similar to them. I love soccer. They love soccer. I felt like I was one more kid playing with them. I remember being so tired because they have so much energy. They just want to play with you all day.
Did the experience have a personal impact?
Haley: I felt humbled by this trip. There is a true test of faith for the people of Monte Sinaí: flooding, no clean water, very little money to feed themselves or their kids, or the police coming through and wiping out their homes. I realized God tests everyone and not just me.
Eduardo: The trips give me the motivation to keep doing things like this. I’ve gone twice, and I see other students motivated to help, get more involved with community activities, or to keep doing SEND trips. This trip makes you think about everything around you and question what you can do to help. You see how your time can make a difference in other people’s lives.