By ERIKA ANDERSON, Staff Writer | Published April 27, 2006
Though the poverty outside of the United States can be staggering, organizers of Joseph’s Apprentices, a service opportunity at Bishop Stang High School in North Dartmouth, Mass., believe there’s no place like home.
At a workshop during the National Catholic Educational Association convention held at the Georgia World Congress Center, Bishop Stang director of guidance Kathleen Ruginis and campus minister Jean Revil spoke about their highly successful service program.
Held each year during spring break, Joseph’s Apprentices provides students with a unique opportunity for prayer, service and fellowship in their own backyard.
Wanting a service opportunity for their students and considering a foreign mission trip, organizers at Bishop Stang realized that there were people that could be served closer to home. North Dartmouth sits in between a town with residents who make a living in the textile industry, and another town whose economy is based mainly on fishing. Both towns were economically depressed.
They created Joseph’s Apprentices, a three-day service retreat experience, during which faculty and teens come together to serve the poor and elderly, while living in community for meals, sleep and prayer. They perform minor repairs, as well as cleaning, yardwork and painting.
“It allows the faculty, staff and students to work together. The whole purpose of this is for it to be a community effort,” Revil said. “This isn’t about just a few people. It’s a collaborative effort.”
Using a PowerPoint presentation, the two women showed pictures of their efforts with Joseph’s Apprentices. Many in the audience at the workshop work in high schools or middle schools, and Revil and Ruginis said that they believed their program could be adapted for different ages and even religious education programs.
Joseph’s Apprentices just celebrated its third year. The first year there were 12 students and nine adults on the trip. This year, there were 41 students with a waiting list.
Prayer, Revil said, is an essential part of the three-day work experience.
“We have morning prayer every day. It’s an opportunity for the kids to reflect on the work we’re about to do,” she said, adding that the program has a deep impact because it hits so close to home.
“It’s eye-opening to realize that there are people living this way right in our backyard, and I know in your backyard, too. You just have to look,” she said.
Ruginis said that students at Bishop Stang eagerly await Joseph’s Apprentices.
“The program is contagious. Once kids get involved, they almost always come back and they bring their friends,” she said. “It’s contagious with the adults, too. I don’t think we’ve had any adults who have come once and have not come back again and again.”
Revil encouraged those in attendance who have been looking for service opportunities to adapt the Joseph’s Apprentices program to their own needs.
“Believe me, this can work wherever you are,” she said. “If you want to build community within yourselves as well as bridging the gap in the greater community, this will do that.”
Nancy Wilson, an assistant principal at a Catholic school in Rome, N.Y., was excited after attending the workshop.
“We don’t have a service program right now,” she said, adding that her school is newly established after a high school and grade school were combined to make a pre-kindergarten through 12th grade school. “We’ve raised money for things like the Humane Society and things like that, but we want to learn how to get our kids to serve in our own community. This would be just perfect for us.”