Features, Column

Immersion Program Enlightens

Christmas time is often associated with an abundance of presents, delicious food, coziness, and time spent with family and friends. Throughout the world, though, impoverishment, hunger, illness, and loneliness affect millions despite the joyous holiday season.

Therefore, with the true spirit of giving in mind, several students and faculty members are preparing for service trips that will take place at the end of Winter Break through various Boston College clubs and organizations.

In addition to wintertime volunteer excursions to destinations such as Belize, Ecuador, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Mexico, and Guatemala sponsored by the Arrupe International Immersion Program, Urban Immersion offers students the opportunity to reach out to impoverished individuals nearer to campus.

Led by Rev. Don MacMillan, S.J. and Dan Leahy of Campus Ministry, the 10th annual Urban Immersion entails a week-long experience where 25 students journey to various outreach programs in the greater Boston area to learn about and actively participate in the lives of the homeless and impoverished.

This year, the trip takes place on Sunday, Jan. 5 through Saturday, Jan. 11, with 22 students currently signed on to volunteer at St. Francis House, Rose’s Place, Boston Living Center, Marian Manner, and Boston Rescue Mission.

On Jan. 5, participants will return to campus to assemble for orientation, Celebrate mass, and receive their assignments. The students will then be separated into five small groups, and each day they will alternate which location they visit.

After spending the day at one of the five different outreach programs, the five groups will return to Vanderslice’s Caberet Room for dinner. The first group that returns is designated to cook dinner for the subsequent four.

Next, time is allotted for general reflection, discussion, and prayer, and then the students will listen to a variety of speakers from organizations such as the Massachusetts Faces of Homelessness Speakers’ Bureau-a group committed to engaging people in the mission of ending homelessness by having individuals previously homeless or impoverished present their struggles to people across all of New England.

These speakers address various and extensive problems within the city, speaking on behalf of the organizations, detailing the historical progression and underlying mission of the volunteer institutions.

Additionally, they come from a variety of backgrounds, with many veterans and some individuals, like the woman who spoke to last year’s volunteer group during an evening seminar.
At the conclusion of each day, the participants gather for a multi-faith prayer service and “people go around to share how their day went,” MacMillan said.

In addition to living out the Jesuit call to be “men and women for others,” the overarching goal of this service trip is to learn about poverty and its causes. “We hope that everyone becomes more aware of the large percentage of impoverished and homeless people,” MacMillan said. “The purpose of education entails reaching out and helping people who can’t help themselves, and this immersion experience demonstrates that.

MacMillan said the outreach communities especially love having  BC students there to help, given that most other members of the college-age crowd are still on break. “What’s been amazing to me is how much they rely on volunteers,” MacMillan said.

Another part of the experience that MacMillan found shocking was the overwhelming number of veterans that the groups meet during the week. Many of these individuals suffer from hunger, post-traumatic stress disorder, and extreme poverty.

“It was really appalling the first year I saw that,” he said. “The government does not reach out to help them enough-we need to step in for these people.

“Justice is a two-step process,” MacMillan said. “The first step is in the board rooms and banking institutions, fighting for legal equality and economic justice. The second is at soup kitchens, food and clothing drives, and charity runs with people donating and giving to the cause.”

This experience allows the group of students to study a variety of urban issues such as the complexity of social issues, theological perspectives, racism, systemic poverty, and homelessness that affect not only the greater Boston area, but also an innumerable amount of places and people throughout the world.

The Urban Immersion program does not fundraise specifically-each participant must pay $50 for food and T passes.

Because the students stay on campus, however, less money is required for preparations or greater commuting expenses given that, as opposed to other winter service trips, they stay in the country.
There are still three open spaces for anyone interested in the experience, with no application necessary. Each year, some of the student volunteers return to the outreach locations to help-a service continuation that MacMillan refers to as one way of “fighting for the common good.”


December 9, 2013