ALLEGANY, N.Y. – As images of their efforts rotated across a large screen in the university chapel, participants in the massive BonaResponds service trip greeted one another with hugs, smiles and high-fives in the afternoon of March 13.
The slide show offered the St. Bonaventure University community a glimpse into the week-long effort during which more than 280 volunteers went to the Gulf Coast to provide free labor, hard work and oftentimes reassurance to residents of the region whose homes remain uninhabitable.
The BonaResponds group left campus after classes on March 3. They were divided into five relief camps — Biloxi, Long Beach and Bay St. Louis in Mississippi and St. Bernard Parish and New Orleans in Louisiana. Led by Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE), the Finance Club, Alpha Phi Omega, and University Ministries, the community-wide service effort to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina took place over the spring mid-term break, March 4-11.
Edward Coughlin, vice president for Franciscan Mission who also went on the service trip, welcomed the group home during the prayer service.
“Because of your efforts, a bright light has shown in the darkness,” he said.
Several of the 200-plus students who went to the Gulf Coast shared their experiences, from gutting homes and removing mold to praying with homeowners. Michael Damiano, who worked in the St. Bernard Parish area, said, “The gratitude from each and every person was amazing. These people would stop us on the street to offer thanks.”
Student Matt Lundgren, who worked with a group of 21 people in Bay St. Louis, wouldn’t “trade that week for anything. I’m graduating in May and I’m going back down there.”
University president Sister Margaret Carney noted that the Bonaventure group is proof “the community of faith goes on generation after generation.”
“You are the living proof St. Francis of Assisi got it right. God has something for us to do,” she said.
Also during the service, at the request of the St. Bonaventure University friary community, the Province recognized 20 members of BonaResponds by awarding them the Francis Medal in honor of their leadership.
Established by the Province in 1998, the Francis Medal is awarded to “recognize and express its deep appreciation to women and men who have advanced the values and ideals of St. Francis and/or generously assisted the friars in living and proclaiming the Gospel after the example of St. Francis of Assisi.”
Medals were presented to St. Bonaventure faculty members Joseph Coate, associate professor of accounting; Michael Kasperski, lecturer in accounting; James Mahar, assistant professor of finance; Terrence Moran, assistant professor of management sciences; and Todd Palmer, assistant professor of management sciences.
Medals were presented to the following St. Bonaventure students: Meghan Backus, Matthew DeSantis, Anthony DiMario, Christine Francis, Andrew Hartnett, Ryan Hasper, Carrie Jackling, Rebecca Kessler, Joshua Koszuta, Matthew Lundgren, Sean Lynch, Emily Meehan, Greg Moss, Anne Werner and Karen Wolfe.
Mahar, who helped spearhead the spring break effort after two previous trips to the Gulf, looked forward to each evening when the volunteers gathered for reflection. He loved to hear what other groups did and how the time there affected others.
“On my second trip, a volunteer said something that I remember almost every day. He said that he was a better person when he was here, and he challenged us all to be that better people when we went home,” he said. Mahar offers the same challenge to members of BonaResponds.
“We did not put this trip together for only the week. It is a learning experience. The time you spend here should have an impact long after we have left the region. Of course, the people you have helped will be eternally grateful, but the impact is greater than that. The impact should also be felt back home.”
“Be that person you wish you could be. Help others, care for your neighbors, volunteer at the local humane society, help out at the soup kitchen in your town, or just take the time to listen to those in need,” Mahar said. “If you do that, this trip will really be a success.”