In late July, two dozen Jesuit High School students broke into three groups of eight and fanned out across the community of Aiken, S.C.
Each group was led by a Jesuit chaperone and identified by its bandanna colors – purple (led by chaperone Dan Angel), orange (Corey Perich), and green (Lauren Hescheles).
Over the course of the week of July 23-30, these bandanna-clad outsiders from Florida helped make Aiken better, serving primarily the elderly with labor on their home and property. They completed needed repairs and upgrades the homeowners could not do themselves nor afford. They fixed walkways and pipes, painted walls and doors, repaired roofs and ramps, rebuilt decks – whatever was needed.
The 24 Tigers serving on the mission trip to Aiken were Keller Agliano '20, Bennett Andersen '20, Xander Arena '20, Tiger Bales '20, Christopher Browy '20, Jack Delp '21, Spencer Farfante '20, Connor Flynn '20, Luke Franklin '21, Brennen Gil '20, Gabe Herrera '20, Danny Hughes '20, Harrison Huseby '20, William Iler '22, Sam Knopik '20, Thomas Lahart '20, Luke Lehman '21, Coy Lowrey '21, Jonathan Maingot '20, Alex Martinez '21, Derek Pope '20, Collin Talbot '20, Luca Valenti '20, and Trevor Wardell '20.
This marked Jesuit's third summer mission trip to Aiken. The connection began several years ago when Fr. Patrick Hough, S.J. brought Jesuit's liturgical choir on a spring mission trip to the area. Representatives of St. Mary Help of Christians Catholic Church in Aiken asked if Jesuit would be interested in returning to the area for a summer mission trip in conjunction with Home Works of America, and so it began.
Home Works is a Columbia, S.C.-based non-profit whose mission is to "Show God's love through serving those in need by repairing homes, while assisting with youth development, and empowering communities to care for their own."
This year, just getting to Aiken became part of the challenge. A flat tire stalled the three-van convoy in Jasper, Fla. Herrera and Andersen led the tire change crew and got them back on the road.
The accommodations in Aiken were in a gym at the church, and Angel, Jesuit's new Assistant Director of Campus Ministry, led devotions and morning prayer during the week.
Throughout each day, the trio of eight-student teams got to work in Aiken helping those in need.
"Elderly people who don't have anyone to help them – that's exactly who we helped," Hescheles said. "Seniors who couldn't do the work for their house or have the financial resources to hire someone."
Each group was sent to different sites. The orange team did an entire roof replacement, while purple did some roofing and deck rebuilding. Green team numerous odd jobs and ended up going to six different sites. They did some plumbing, yard work, re-sealed a roof, re-stained a ramp, built a planter for growing vegetables, installed smoke detectors, made a long trail through a back yard that led to a sitting area which had been inaccessible for years, and installed a new American flag for a woman whose military veteran husband had died two months ago.
What made the trip extra special was getting to know the people they were serving.
"The relationships with the homeowners is a huge part of this," Hescheles said. "We had the opportunity to get to know each other, listen to and share stories, and just connect with people we otherwise would never get to know.
"It was a lot of hard work, but the connections make it so worthwhile. The students all know they made a difference in people's lives, because of all the people who expressed gratitude for their work. They certainly felt like 'Men for Others.'"