Spring Break in Kansas

Originally posted 3/26/16

Hello!

I was going to post a recipe, but I feel the need to share about my experiences from my Spring Break trip. Fear not, however, a new recipe will come Sunday, and it's a good one!

My Mission Trip to Kansas was amazing! 9 students, myself included, and 2 staff members from my school drove down last Saturday, and we got back very late on Friday night. We stayed at the University of Saint Mary, in Leavenworth, Kansas. It's a beautiful campus, if anyone has been there. During the week, we broke up into small groups and did service work at different local organizations devoted to helping the homeless and underprivileged people of the Leavenworth area.

Some interesting and relevant things I learned about Leavenworth, Kansas. Leavenworth is home to multiple prisons and a military base, leading to an interesting demographic. Leavenworth does not have a public transportation system, over half of the residential housing is rental housing, and there are 14 food pantries in the town. There is not a set of regulations for maintaining rental houses, and there is not a grocery store on the north-east side of town, where the majority of the low-income housing is. Because only 12,000 people out of the 40,000 population are tax-payers--the rest being mostly military or inmates--the amount of money for improvements is small. There are almost no services for people with disabilities, and a majority of the programs that provide aid to those in need are volunteer based or run by the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth.

My experiences from the past week could fill pages and pages, but a few highlights were: Eating at Jack Stack in Kansas City, organizing and directing Sunday dinner preparations for 14 people, having an engaging conversation about theology with a group of young Mormon guys, painting a bathroom purple, seeing a play called "The Whale", being confused about which Kansas City we were in when sight-seeing (there are two!), and getting to spend time with the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth. Honestly, these women are so incredible and loving and giving, and it's pretty awesome the things they've done in Leavenworth and the hopes they have for the future.

As I may have mentioned before, my minor is American Sign Language and I've been studying the language since this past September. While it's been a challenge and frustrating at times, it is something I enjoy. I know that however hard it is, learning ASL is worth it because of what happened on my first day of service, and it's something that I'll carry with me for a very long time.

While folding clothes for Catholic Charities, a man and a woman walked into the building intending to get aid. I noticed, in watching the interaction between the two, that the man was gesturing and voicing to the woman. He was trying to ask a question, but the woman he was with didn't seem to understand him very well and wasn't paying attention. I waved to him, got his attention, and asked him, in sign language, if he was Deaf. He signed back that he was, and we chatted for a few minutes before my group took our lunch break and we left.

Taking the time to talk to a person and let them know that you are listening to them is one of the most basic and important parts of recognizing the dignity in every person. I understood that more in this moment with that man than I ever have before. The look on his face when he saw that I could sign and understand him was truly priceless. It was a chance encounter, our conversation was short, and I don't think I'll ever see him again, but he will be in my prayers.

I highly recommend that anyone who has the opportunity to go on a service or immersion trip should go, especially teenagers and young adults. Not only do you get to do meaningful and needed work for a community other than your own, but you are able to witness first-hand the struggles that some people are facing and know that you've made a little bit of a difference in the world. Our trip leader told us that even though we won't always get to see the effect that our work has on the community, we know that we've planted seeds of hope for others, and we pray that they'll continue to grow after we're gone.

Now that spring break is almost over for me, I think I'm going to enjoy my limited days by sleeping, watching netflix, and of course, cooking!