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Summer of service work

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Before the last bell rang on the 2018-19 school year, students at Bishop O’Connell High School in Arlington had the opportunity to sign up for one of several mission trips arranged by Joanie Coolidge, who coordinates the school’s Christian service program. “Summer can be a great time for young people to roll up their sleeves and spread the Good News of the Gospel of Christ to brothers and sisters in our local and international communities,” she said.

First out of the gate was the annual Peru mission trip in late June, which was carried out in conjunction with Commissioned by Christ. A group of O’Connell students, along with Coolidge, Father Gregory Thompson, school chaplain, and Kerri Spies, math teacher, traveled to Piura, Peru to serve the people of the local community by visiting hospice patients, teaching music and dance, distributing food and clothing, cleaning homes and even building a house.

“I was struck by the experience of seeking to serve, but instead finding that through the holiness, humility and hospitality of our Peruvian brothers and sisters, they brought Christ to us,” remarked Father Thompson.

July 14, a second group of O’Connell students joined Coolidge and English and religion teacher Colleen Swaim to participate in the Rural Appalachian Service Immersion program organized by the Appalachian Institute of Wheeling University in W. Va. These students learned about the rich cultural and economic heritage of the Appalachian people, and about sustainable farming in the region. They also spent time with staff from Catholic Charities and helped with food preparation at their soup kitchen.

In late July, another group of students, along with chaperones Coolidge; Trent Jones, art teacher; and Rob Horan, technology teacher, headed into Washington for the Young Neighbors in Action program. The group stayed at Bishop McNamara High School in Forestville, Md., where they joined more than 50 students from across the United States. The program included preparing and serving breakfast at Capitol Hill Methodist Church, working in the 17-acre garden of the Franciscan Monastery, and learning about advocacy on Capitol Hill.

“In the kitchen, we had lawyers, college professors, musicians and teachers, cooking and washing dishes, but when it came time to break bread, we sat down as equals with people without homes, with those struggling with mental health challenges and addictions, all friends of Christ,” said Coolidge. “We read and discussed scripture together. It was beautiful.”

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2019