Jesuit High School students have a strong, unwavering commitment to service. But even by the standards of a Jesuit student, Phillip Thompson '19 has had an exceptional summer.
Two weeks in Europe in June with Jesuit's Marian Pilgrimage, followed by a week in July as part of Jesuit's annual service immersion experience in Appalachia (Jasper, Ga.) followed by another week of service with a Jesuit contingent in Belle Glade.
Whew. After all that, Thompson took some time to reflect on the mission trip to Appalachia, where 24 Jesuit students plus chaperones Fernando Rodrigues, Amy Martin, and Matthew Kuizon '11 once again served the rural community of Jasper. He shares his thoughts on the extraordinary experience below. (View the photo slideshow from the Appalachia mission trip at the end.)
This was my second time going on the Jasper Mission Trip, so I thought I knew what to expect. But after a septic tank explosion the first night and everyone working together to clean up the mess until 1:00 in the morning, I knew this trip would be unique. Our group this year consisted of mostly rising seniors, but there were rising sophomores and juniors as well. Like me, many others had done this mission trip before, and we were all excited to be back in Jasper doing service together for the amazing people there.
The city of Jasper is in the rural mountains of north Georgia, about 45 minutes north of Atlanta. The city itself is quite small, with only one traffic light in its downtown area and fewer than 4,000 residents. Because we have been going to Jasper for several years in a row now, Jesuit High School has come to have quite a reputation all throughout the town. Everyone knows about “the Florida boys” who come doing service for the people there each summer. We stay at the local Catholic parish, Our Lady of the Mountains, and the parishioners show us much deep gratitude and hospitality by doing many things for us, like making us dinner each evening, providing us with the tools and yard equipment we need, inviting us to Mass and confession with them, and letting us live in their youth center, famously known as “The Barn.”
What really made this trip unique is that our group of guys really bonded together well. Throughout all the highs and lows of the trip, we always stuck together and had fun with each other. Each day, when we got back to The Barn from doing a day’s worth of labor around the community, we would spend time playing games such as ping-pong, basketball, soccer, and spikeball. We also found time to watch the World Cup final, go hiking through the woods, and go whitewater rafting. Working together on the service projects brought us all very close. Despite all of the ticks, thorns, wasps, heat, and other common Georgia dangers, we always kept a smile on each other’s faces no matter what work we had to do. I definitely saw all of the guys on this trip grow very close with each other after each day of service, and we all had a great time on this trip because of it.
Every morning a group of guys would make breakfast for everyone, and we would all be out the door as soon as we could, headed to whichever service project we were assigned. We would go out in small groups of three or four and do 10 to 15 service projects each day. These projects included painting porches, cleaning gutters, clearing out forests, building roofs, doing yard work, and anything else the people we were serving needed done. I even washed a dog one day and took care of some goats another. But besides the hard work and dedicated service, the most important thing our group did was interact with the people we were serving. Many in Jasper do not get to see new people very often, so being there as just someone for them to have an encounter with, tell their life stories to, tell jokes to and make smile, or feel appreciated and liked by, it gives them some joy. We could feel the appreciation in their hearts. We give these people pride in their property and home by doing a tangible service. But more importantly, by showing compassion and interacting, we also give them pride and joy in themselves, which is invaluable. In turn, we felt a pride and joy as well, for our service to the people of Jasper.
I encountered moments like these every single day, and it made the hard work so worth it. For example, one lady who’s car port I painted brought me and my group in her house for a homemade barbecue chicken lunch. We sat and ate with her in her home for about an hour, and the whole time we were engaged, hearing her life stories, interested in all she had to say. It was great. Another day, after cleaning a 90-year-old man’s gutters, he brought us inside so he could play some songs for us on his old steel guitar. The instrument he played is very rare, and seeing him play old country tunes on it with such passion and joy was truly awe-inspiring. Another women whose porch I painted drove me and some guys up and down her street, proudly showing us where each of her family members live. And another man whose hedges I trimmed would tell me and my friends the funniest jokes the entire time we were working.
Experiences like these made Jasper so special. Being able to bring joy and love to a stranger’s heart by doing service for them is one of the most awesome things I can do in my life, and that is what Jasper was all about.
The Jesuit students who served with Thompson in Appalachia were: Christian Beatty ’19, James Bencivenga ’19, Jacob Black ’19, Bruce Butler ’20, Carter Campbell ’19, Chandler Carnes ’21, Jack Delp ’21, Cade Freeman ’20, Don Freund ’19, Jake Hoffman ’19, Ryan Iversen ’19, Thomas Knipe ’19, Jason Kwo ’21, Riley Martin ’20, Jeffrey Masser ’19, James McCarthy ’21, J.P. Menendez ’19, Andrew Motzer ’19, Jaden Pask ’19, Matthew Pittman ’19, Michael Quackenbush ’20, William Rodriguez ’19, and Evan Stanislow ’19.
View a photo slideshow from Appalachia 2018 below.