Six students from Chaminade High School, including one from Rockville Centre, visited West Virginia last month as a way to expand their community services beyond their local areas.
“It was all about community service, so I wanted to continue my commitment to that,” said RVC resident Jack Bingham,” and also experience maybe a different way of life in a rural setting, which is much different than what we have in Rockville Centre and much of Long Island.”
Bingham, 17, is no stranger to helping others. He has been a Eucharistic minister at Chaminade, where he will soon begin his senior year, and will once again serve as a teaching assistant for religious education at St. Agnes, a role he has filled for the last few years. Bingham has also volunteered for the REACH Program at Hofstra University’s summer camps, where he worked one-on-one with a camper with special needs.
He left the state to serve those in need this time, joining classmates for a trip to Nazareth Farm, a Catholic community in rural West Virginia that opened in 1979, which offers a service-retreat experience. It is devoted to “living out the Gospel message through the cornerstones of community, simplicity, prayer, and service,” according to its website, and addresses substandard housing by providing home repair for the residents in the area.
Brother Patrick Sarsfield, chairman of Chaminade’s religion department, is a yearly chaperone on the weeklong trip, which normally includes about a half dozen volunteers from the school. The students went to a different house each day, he said, as they repaired a roof on one, installed siding on another, and also helped a woman make her house more handicapped-accessible.
“It’s not just about getting the job done,” Sarsfield said. “It’s actually about encountering the people of Appalachia.”
The retreat, which Chaminade students have been taking since about 2005, according to Sarsfield, is also a time for the teenagers to turn their phones and other electronics off, he added, as to enhance the experience of immersing themselves in the community.
“When the kids have an actual opportunity to engage with the people of the area, they start to see poor people not just as news stories or statistics or anything like that,” Sarsfield said. “They see them as real human beings who just need a little bit of help.”
In addition to doing various yard work at the farm, Bingham said, groups would go to nearby towns to assist different West Virginia residents, many of whom were older people in need. In addition to meeting the locals, a focus of the trip was joining forces with other volunteers, who had come from places including Buffalo and Indiana, Bingham said.
“At the end of the week, we became great friends, and you would think that you knew them for your life,” he said. “It was great community there.”
Bingham said he would be serving as one of Chaminade’s senior leaders, which help freshman get acclimated to the new school, and plans to stay involved in its Emmaus Apostolic Program, a school-wide effort which seeks to engage students in service to the Church, school, and community. He also sees another service project happening in his future.
“You learn that when you build community and get to know each other and enjoy doing the work that you’re doing,” Bingham said, “through faith, you can really make a positive impact on others who need the help the most.”