High school students immerse themselves in summer service

Armando Ruiz, left, works with his brother Emmanuel Ruiz to organize food. (Peter Feuerherd)

Francesca Morales, a high school junior from West Hempstead, New York, has long been drawn to services at her parish and at Kellenberg Memorial High School, the Long Island Catholic school she attends.

But now there's something different. While preparing to work one August morning at the Bread of Life soup kitchen in this borough's Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood, she said her immersion this summer in service and reflection "seems like all the things I've done on steroids."

Morales was part of a program sponsored by St. John's University in New York that brought her together with nine other high-school-age students for a week of service. The agenda included exploring the Vincentian ideal of helping the poor.

The week included reflections on the theological implications of poverty in a country where there is so much and yet many have little. Serving the people who rely on the soup kitchen was part of a total experience that brought the high schoolers a glimpse into poverty, New York City street life and cultural landmarks, combined with a taste of university life.

The group lived in the dorms, rode the subways and witnessed the complicated realities of life in New York, a place that encompasses the glitter of Trump Tower as well as homeless men who walk the trains without shoes.

A version of this story appeared in the Sept 8-21, 2017 print issue under the headline: The meaning beyond basic participation .

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