Students Serve Those Facing Poverty in Cincinnati

When thinking about a mission trip, most think that serving must be done far away from home. In reality, there are people who need help in every town, near or far away. For four students, they did not have to travel far as they spent a week serving and learning about poverty in Cincinnati.

The mission trip was titled Rooted in the Vine and was organized by the St. Vincent de Paul’s Ozanam Center. The Eagles served alongside students from other high schools and parishes including Moeller High School and St. John the Baptist Catholic Church. The mission trip was focused on the seven themes of Catholic Social Teaching - Life and Dignity of the Human Person; Call to Family, Community, and Participation; Rights and Responsibilities; Option for the Poor and Vulnerable; the Dignity of Work and the Rights of Workers; Solidarity; and Care for God's Creation.

On the first full day of the mission trip, the group completed service at two sites in the West End - the community where St. Vincent de Paul is located. They then traveled to Over-The-Rhine, a community once known for poverty and violence that was now transformed into an “up-and-coming” spot for residents and visitors alike. Ozanam Center leaders noted that many who used to live in Over-The-Rhine moved over the recent years due to property tax increases, and most of those residents didn’t have much say over their departure.

That same day the students heard from Sam, a man who had once experienced homelessness. He shared that one horrible incident in his life started a domino effect of tragedies, including homelessness.

“It was very incredible to hear what he went through and for him to share his story,” noted Staci Greene ‘20.

The day ended with students spending time with children at the Santa Maria Community Center in Lower Price Hill and a poverty simulation at the Ozanam Center.

“We all got a real person who is or suffered from poverty,” Greene explained. “We had to figure out how to pay rent, keep our children healthy, and how to get a job with a permanent record.”

Tuesday was a rural day for the group as they spent most of their time in Brown County. It’s not only one of the largest counties in Ohio but it’s also one that has a significant amount of residents affected by poverty. The group visited two farms, the Hope Emergency Program - a food, clothing and furniture shelter, and St. Mary Catholic Church for a potluck dinner.

“It was an eye-opening experience seeing how hard these farmers work to do what they do,” said Sully Dean ‘20. “They put in 18-20 hour days to ensure that their product gets sold. That to me was amazing!”

Many of the students said that Wednesday was one of the most impactful days on the mission trip as the group did home visits with volunteers from St. Vincent de Paul. During a home visit, volunteers meet with people who have requested assistance from St. Vincent de Paul.

“We each went into the living spaces of our neighbors experiencing poverty and were able to form relationships with them,” added Elizabeth Murray ‘20. “It was very educational and eye-opening experience. We then went to a playground/water park with some of the kids from the Santa Maria Community Center. I loved doing this and being able to make a small impact in these kids’ lives.”

The following day, the group traveled to the Hamilton County Justice Center with the focus on the Catholic Social Teaching of Life and Dignity of the Human Person.

“We got to experience what our incarcerated neighbors live like while in jail,” shared Sophie Haws ‘20. “After touring the jail and learning a little more about the life of an inmate, we went to Friendship Park and learned more about incarceration related to race. Did you know that the war on drugs has been waged primarily in communities of color where people of color are more likely to receive higher offenses?”

Haws concluded, “I can honestly say that this experience was life changing and I can't wait to carry on what we have learned and what we will continue to learn in the future.”

Murray agreed, “Throughout the week I was overcome with the resilience of the human spirit that I have witnessed in my neighbors experiencing poverty.”

The 12 students shared that they hoped to continue working together as a group to continue combating poverty not only in Cincinnati, but in their hometowns too.

Posted July 1, 2018