Spring break trips show Mercy in action

From inner-city Detroit to Birmingham, Alabama, to Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, Mercyhurst students and staff spread out over spring break to act as “ambassadors of service” to those in need.

Bethany Brun, assistant director of community engagement, led the Detroit alternative break trip, which plunged students into an urban environment where the loss of manufacturing jobs and population has resulted in severe urban decay. Their host for the week, Motown Mission, connects groups interested in economic disaster recovery work. It was the sixth annual Hurst trip to the Motor City.

They began by painting an apartment for a man working to turn his life around. “I never thought a coat of paint could make a huge difference, but right before our eyes, we saw this apartment go from a space to live, to a place to call home,” said junior Tricia Shullick. “He told us his struggles in the past and how he overcame them,” added Hayley Ault, also a junior. “I really saw how much we changed his life. That was really inspiring.”

The group also helped out at a church that operates a “free store” where clients can get clothes, bedding, toiletries and other essentials. Shullick noted, “Doing trips like this inspires me to grow beyond myself and reminds me to get out of my comfort zone every once in a while. It's so easy to give in to life's standard routine, so breaking that routine to do good in the community is doing work for the soul.”

For nearly 20 members of Mercyhurst’s Habitat for Humanity chapter, led by Russian teacher Dr. Katie Duda, spring break meant several days of cleaning, painting and construction work, all with the goal of providing affordable housing to families in need. They added finishing touches like baseboards and painting to a couple of Habitat homes in Alabama, demolished a shed, and helped build a brand-new home, adding initial walls to a building and preparing it for a roof.

Junior Mitchell Marsh said the trip “allowed me and my peers to give back to a community and experience the city’s culture and rich history in Birmingham, Alabama, as well as forming new friendships and experiencing hands-on service.”

Fourteen students headed to Valladolid, Yucatan, Mexico, to work with Chosen IMA (International Medical Assistance). Traveling with them were Colin Hurley, director of community engagement; Dr. Beatriz Torres, a public health professor who also helped with translation; and Courey Schaetzle, a Mercyhurst athletic training grad who’s now pursuing a doctorate in physical therapy.

Many of the participants are planning careers in health-related fields and got valuable experience observing and assisting at the Centro Medico San Lucas clinic. Schaetzle took the lead during follow-up visits for patients who had undergone orthopedic surgery at the clinic.

The students also visited rural areas nearby, where they helped paint a church and engaged with the local children.

“The church building in those few hours came alive with a sense of worship even though no worship service had been scheduled. There was a clear language barrier for many, but often no words needing to be shared,” Hurley explained. “To me, the Love I recognize in the Gospel message and the language of Mercy we treasure at MU was spread in our time together that day.”

Senior Philip Jenny said that playing soccer or futbol with the kids was a special experience. “It didn't even matter that we couldn't communicate well, they just loved to play and enjoy life. It has given me a perspective to enjoy all of the little things and not get caught up with things in life that don't matter.”

Members of the Mercyhurst community may not often get the chance to take a weeklong trip with a team and dedicate it to serving others and building community together. However, because of a Mercy Mission that unites the ‘Hurst family, we all have an invitation daily to seize the day for serving others and putting Mercy into action. Carpe Diem!