The article was first reported by The Assumption University.
Following a two-year hiatus caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, Assumption University’s Campus Ministry resumed its SEND Service Program with two immersive service trips during the spring semester break. The week-long trips to El Paso, Texas and Camden, New Jersey provided students with the opportunity to engage in meaningful service and hospitality aligning with community values.
Each trip was comprised of a team of nine students, many of whom had never been on a SEND Trip before, and one staff leader.
“The Assumptionists have a presence in both the El Paso and Camden areas,” said Nick Coccoma, Campus Minister and the primary organizer of the two SEND trips. “Our desire was for the trips to go to places where the Assumptionists have a ministry so that the students can connect not only with the service and immersion they are doing, but also meet those Assumptionist communities and gain a wider sense of the Assumptionist mission.”
Students who flew to El Paso served with the El Otro Lado program, an organization that provides humanitarian and legal support to migrants and refugees on both sides of the United States-Mexico border. Through the program, the group volunteered with local community organizations such as Jardin de Milagros, a non-profit which grows and donates approximately 100 thousand pounds of produce per year to local food shelters.
Throughout the week, the group visited with U.S. Border Patrol officers and various local church groups who receive groups of migrants from U.S. Immigration and Customes Enforcement (ICE). Each day, officers transport around 500 immigrants representing more than 80 different countries to these church organizations, who provide the immigrants with meals, clean clothing, and hospitality while they wait to connect with family members in the United States.
“I knew this trip would be unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before,” said Jack MacPherson ’22. “This was an area of the country where most of us had never been before, and a lot of the experiences were very eye-opening. On the trip we really came together as a team though. I knew some of the people on the trip before we left, but not a lot, and I think we all connected really well and became very close throughout the week.”
Students also met with members of the Religious of the Assumption in nearby Chaparral, New Mexico and familiar faces to the Univertisy community, Fr. Ron Sibugan, A.A., and Fr. Peter Precourt, A.A., at St. Francis Xavier Church in El Paso, where the Assumptionists have been serving since 2020.
“Students are able to go to places where the Assumptionists and the Religious of the Assumption are serving and experience the kinds of work they are doing in a way that can’t be understood by reading about it in a newspaper or watching it on TV,” Paul Covino, Director of Campus Ministry said. “To actually see the situation at the U.S.-Mexico border and hear the stories of what moves people to seek asylum in our country is very powerful, and it’s something you can’t experience in that way without being there.”
The Camden trip immersed students in similarly impactful experiences through the Romero Center. Students met with migrant families to help them coordinate resources, visited an UrbanPromise center to help support after-school programs for children, and assisted at a local food pantry.
“During SEND Camden we got a chance to live in solidarity with the people we interacted with in the community,” Graduate Assistant Tim Cody ’20 said. “One of the most impactful experiences was when we completed the $3 challenge, a challenge where we were tasked with getting our meals for 24 hours with a budget of $3 per person. It was an eye-opening experience that helped us understand how those in less fortunate situations must live sometimes.”
“It really just puts a lot of things into perspective,” Isabella Ricciardi ’22 said. “Experiencing what situations some of these children and families are in and getting a chance to serve the community the way we did can only be described as eye-opening.”
SEND trips are available to all Assumption students and are typically scheduled during breaks in the academic calendar – Christmas, Spring Break, and after Commencement. The El Paso and Camden trips will return next year, along with two others for a total of four SEND trips in 2022-23.