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Students and a teacher at V.J. and Angela Skutt Catholic High School in Omaha help build four walls for a shed during a spring break service project with Habitat for Humanity in Council Bluffs.

Serving others is focus of students’ spring break

While Mercy High School seniors Michelle Allen and Jenny Gilbert could have spent spring break relaxing at home, they and teens in other Catholic schools in the archdiocese turned instead to serving others.

The effort was worth it, they said after returning to Omaha with 10 other students and two teachers from a March 5-13 trip to the Dominican Republic that included painting a community center and health clinic in Los Pilones, a village in the mountains.

"I witnessed first-hand what it is like to live in poverty, and despite such a hard lifestyle, the people showed our group nothing but love, kindness, respect and joy," said Allen, a member of Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Omaha.

Allen and Gilbert said they also were reminded that people living relatively comfortable lives in the United States and elsewhere should help those in developing countries.

"We have a responsibility, as human beings, to care for and provide for each other – no matter what religion, race, ethnicity, or part of the world we come from," Gilbert said.

Mercy High was among several Catholic high schools offering spring break service opportunities. Mount Michael Benedictine School near Elkhorn sponsored a mission trip to Mexico for a sixth straight year, this time sending 30 students March 5-12 to a home-building project in a village northeast of Mexico City, and 16 students from Daniel J. Gross Catholic High School in Bellevue traveled to Kansas City, Mo., for service work April 10-16.

Students at V.J. and Angela Skutt Catholic High School in Omaha stayed closer to home, with 16 students helping six different organizations in the Omaha area, including homeless shelters and Habitat for Humanity.

Each day of the March 18-20 Skyhawks in the City effort began and ended with prayer. Students went to various work sites and returned in the evening to the Archdiocesan Retreat and Conference Center in Omaha.

Claire Harrison, a junior at Skutt Catholic, said she helped give manicures to women at a senior citizen care center in Millard, assisted at a homeless shelter and a clothing store and food pantry for the needy, and participated in a Friday night party for the intellectually disabled, all in Omaha.

The experience helped her understand how quickly people’s fortunes can turn from doing well to struggling, and her need to assist them, Harrison said.

"Whether it’s donating my time or money, I know my efforts will go to deserving people who just need a little extra help," she said.

Maria Hahn, a math teacher at Mercy High who accompanied the students to the Dominican Republic, said service efforts help expose students to others’ needs. And Mercy’s spring trip, arranged through a partnership with Creighton University in Omaha and its Institute for Latin American Concern, helps students see needs outside of the United States, she said.

Gilbert, a member of St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Omaha, and Allen acknowledged that they could have been home with their families during spring break. But the trip was an opportunity to experience another culture, Gilbert said. It also increased her awareness of global needs, and the people’s faith and love despite material struggles were inspiring, she said.

And each night, Allen said, she prayed for her family and friends back home and the people of the Dominican Republic, "as well as thanking God for granting me the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be where I was, serving some of the most extraordinary people I had ever met."

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