Sometimes we wonder if we can really make a difference. The world is a pretty big place with myriad problems.
But according to Sister Marge Clifford in East St. Louis, Ill., what we do as individuals does matter. "Each one, reach one," she told Ambrosians as they prepared to serve the homeless, children, and victims of domestic violence, all part of the East St. Louis spring break service trip. The saying, a version of the African-American proverb, "Each one teach one," not only suggests the power of the individual to change the world, but inherently commands each of us—and those we reach—to do so.
"We are staying at the Joe Hubbard House on Church Street, a hostel for volunteers," wrote St. Ambrose junior Lauren Bryner, a member of the service trip team. "Sister Marge, who runs it, is really wonderful. She works so hard and treats us like we're her own children. We have homemade meals every night—and dessert! We're here with other college students and each group takes its turn pitching in to help with dinner, dessert and dishes. We play a lot of cards at night."
The days were spent in service. The Ambrose group was partnering with the Diocese of Belleville, which has created an alliance of charitable outreach efforts and agencies in conjunction with Catholic Charities. Together they address basic human needs such as food, shelter, medical care, education, support and resources.
"Some of us worked on the bus that serves food to the homeless, helping to fix the shelves inside. We also had fun decorating it for Easter. The man who owns the bus collects Easter baskets, fills them with goodies for the children, and enlists the "Easter Bunny" to pass them out. The rest of our Ambrose group went to the Sister Thea Bowman Catholic School to clean all the desks, chairs, chalkboards and blinds.
"We also went to Opal's House, a shelter for women and children who are victims of domestic violence. In the afternoon we went to the Roosevelt Center afterschool program, one of four run by Catholic Urban Programs' (CUP) Griffin Center. The social service and educational programs are provided free to children and families. Sister Julia, who runs the Roosevelt Center, told us that the combined programs serve approximately 425 students from six public housing developments each year. We enjoyed serving snacks, helping with homework, and playing board games, jacks, cards, and basketball with the kids. We will be going back there almost everyday we're here."
Bryner added, "There were more words of wisdom from Sister Marge at dinner that night. We don't give a handout, Sister told us. We give a hand up."