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A "Break" From What We Know

April 2010


Spring Break in East St. Louis

Mention St. Louis and most think of The Arch, Cardinals' baseball—and the blues. But right across the Mississippi River is a very different story. A town of 30,000, East St. Louis, Illinois, epitomizes the detrimental effects of unemployment, ineffective local government, drug abuse, and gangs. The streets are crumbling; stop lights have stopped working; and vacant lots and abandoned houses outnumber the occupied.

It was to this impoverished city that St. Ambrose students traveled for a spring break service trip. Kait Gushurst, Mary Harmon, Kaitlyn Konuiszy and Amelia Horras, along with SAU AmeriCorps VISTA Jennifer Tuite, were deeply moved.

"Just driving through the city was a humbling life experience," says Amelia, who led the group. "The magnitude of their poverty is truly startling." 

The group partnered with Catholic Urban Programs (CUP), an organization that addresses basic human needs such as food, shelter, medical care, education, support and resources. Living in a volunteer hostel the group traveled to different service sites each morning, and volunteered at an after-school program each afternoon. Their tasks included cleaning a women's shelter for its opening this April, picking up trash in the neighborhood, reading to children in the local Catholic school, and serving lunch at the St. Vincent de Paul soup kitchen. "It was a real hands-on experience," says Amelia.

Interacting with children unaware of their living conditions—making due with what they have and eager to welcome strangers into their world—was inspirational, she says. "But I also realized that we as a society have to do more." And while Amelia could have been catching up on sleep or enjoying home-cooking, "I would not have spent my spring break any other way," she says.

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