This February, Notre Dame Regional High School, Cape Girardeau, and two schools from the east coast — St. Francis Prep in Queens, New York and St. Anthony’s High School on Long Island — came together once again for the Franciscan Volunteer Program.
The annual event was started in 2001 by Br. Damian Novello, OSF. The Franciscan Volunteer Program is sponsored by the Franciscan Brothers of Brooklyn to bring the high schools staffed by the Brothers together for service. During these seven days, students participate in different service projects throughout the region at a variety of organizations, such as food pantries, shelters, or anywhere help is needed.
Each year since 2002, Notre Dame’s campus minister and theology teacher, Sarah Strohmeyer has attended, rotating between the duties of program director and chaperone. The program is hosted by a different school each year tied to the Franciscan Brothers of Brooklyn, and for 2019, Br. David Anthony Migliorino, OSF and Notre Dame took their turn as hosts.
Over 40 people participated in the Franciscan Volunteer Program this year. Nine students and two chaperones attended from St. Francis Prep, 11 students and two chaperones attended from St. Anthony’s, and 12 students and one chaperone, science teacher Jerry Landewe, attended from Notre Dame. Br. Mark Waldmann, OSF, a chaperone from St. Anthony’s, along with Br. Michael Sullivan, OSF, and Br. Etienne Jaeckel, OSF, went with different groups of students to service projects all week.
The Notre Dame family was also called on to help support the students. Notre Dame faculty members Laura Halter and Gail Timpe helped coordinate meals and student lodging needs. Faculty, student groups, community members, and alumni brought in and served meals to the volunteers throughout the week.
Strohmeyer says a key part of hosting the students from New York is exposing them to rural poverty.
“This is something that they don’t always realize — it’s different here,” said Strohmeyer. “And through this, we also show our own students areas which they can serve every day.”
The students served over 10 locations this year through cleaning, serving meals, and building structures such as a storage shed for Mac’s Mission Animal Rescue in Jackson and a fence for Birthright in Cape Girardeau. Other locations included the Cape Senior Center, The People’s Shelter, St. Mary’s Food Pantry, Habitat for Humanity Re-Store, and Salvation Army in Cape Girardeau; the Jesus in Disguise Food Pantry in Benton; and the SEMO Food Bank in Sikeston. They also picked up trash along Route K and made 53 “ugly quilts” for the Ugly Quilt Project at St. Vincent’s in Cape Girardeau.
Christian O’Grady of St. Anthony’s said he was unable to participate when the Franciscan Volunteer Program was held in New York in 2018, but was excited when the opportunity came up this year to travel to a place to which he had never been. Although it was cold and rainy when he arrived, he enjoyed seeing the Arch in St. Louis when traveling down.
“I expected to see more cows, and the area was not what I expected to find,” said O’Grady.
Making ugly quilts was one of O’Grady’s favorite projects.
“We were able to make 53 quilts, so 53 people are going to have warmth during the cold months,” said O’Grady. “The project also gives out basic toiletries, hats, and more. It makes us appreciate what God has given us, and that we are able to help people stay warm.”
Notre Dame senior David Dugan is no novice to service projects, having been on Notre Dame’s summer Mission Trips in the past. But this was his first year participating in Franciscan Volunteer Program.
“Unlike other Mission Trips, like our recent one to San Antonio, it’s an opportunity to do something in my community,” said Dugan. “I really like service, because it makes me feel good, and it brings out the best in me.”
Strohmeyer says, all-in-all, Franciscan Volunteer Program is a great time to bring all three schools together.
“It’s wonderful to live out that charism to be of service,” says Strohmeyer. “It’s important to expose the kids to profound experiences of service — we hope it will inspire them to be of service in their area.”
Thank you to the Franciscan Brothers of Brooklyn, Drury Southwest, Mid-America Hotels, and all of our community partners for making this year’s Franciscan Volunteer Program a success!