High up in the Blue Ridge Mountains, with a population just under 4,000 people, summer in Jasper, Ga. is very different from the hot and humid home of Jesuit High School.
However, the small, rural town and the Tampa school continue to have a special summertime connection through dedication to service and faith annually exemplified by a group of Jesuit students on mission.
This year, 24 current Jesuit students, along with 3 young alumni chaperones, and 4 adult chaperones, descended on Jasper for more than a week (July 13-21) of helping those in the community most in need. It was the eighth service immersion mission trip Jesuit has made to Jasper in the past nine years, with only COVID-19 preventing an excursion in 2020.
Summer can be difficult for some of the Jasper locals, many of whom are older and retired. With sunny days interspersed with regular rainstorms, overgrowth of plant life can happen quickly. Combine that with the summer heat, and many of the town's elderly residents and community centers can become overwhelmed with the maintenance of their grounds.
Enter the eager Jesuit students. Based at a Catholic Church in Jasper, Our Lady of the Mountains, the students were connected with locals in need by members of the church and its Knights of Columbus chapter. Breaking up into small teams to tackle many tasks at once, the students completed more than 30 unique jobs and 800 hours of service over the course of the week.
(Pictured on the homepage after a hard day's work are Carter Kreis '22, Adrian Cancio Rodriguez '22, Connor Patchen '22, and Carlos Pasquotto '24.)
Every day, rain or shine, they were transported around Jasper, fulfilling odd jobs such as painting, mowing/weeding acres of grass, and clearing invasive vines. Some of the biggest jobs included building a pedestrian bridge leading to a family's porch, demolishing and hauling more than two tons of unwanted waste from a property, and re-leveling massive marble steps that were a danger and an eyesore in front of a home.
“Even doing menial tasks, I saw that it meant so much to people,” Paul Gray ’22 said. “Just cleaning their fans or moving their furniture, it just made someone’s day.”
One couple expressed their appreciation with an email to the school:
"We just wanted to take this opportunity to show our appreciation for the help we received from four of your students. We live in Bent Tree, Jasper, Ga., and were helped by four very courteous and helpful young men. They represented your school proudly."
The impactful experience for the two dozen Jesuit students didn't end with the daily labor. Every evening, Mass was said by Our Lady of the Mountains' pastor Fr. Tri John Bosco Ngyuen, a centering experience held in a beautiful church where students could re-focus and realize why they are called to be "Men for Others."
They also had an exhilarating whitewater rafting excursion on the Ocoee River in Tennessee, where the rafting events of the 1996 Summer Olympics took place.
Also, a gracious family of parishioners from Our Lady of the Mountains welcomed the students for a Sunday on a lake. The church and its generous parishioners also provided nightly dinners for the hard-working students, showing their southern hospitality.
And now, nine years after the first group of Jesuit students volunteered in Jasper, the relationship between the two communities is stronger than ever. Below is the list of students and chaperones who served the community of Jasper this summer, and below that is a photo slideshow from the mission trip.
Students: Xavier Aya-ay '22, Michael Beard '22, William Butler '22, Adrian Cancio Rodriguez '22, Wells Clark '22, Paul Gray '22, Max Harden '22, Asher Heldfond '22, Grant Jurusz '22, Matthew Justin '22, Carter Kreis '22, John Paul Llanos '22, Connor Patchen '22, Dominic Rozance '22, Edward Higgins '23, Ayden Lee '23, Ryan O'Sullivan '23, Lucas Sallet '23, Devin Stevens '23, Joshua Williams '23, John LeBron '24, Joey Pastore '24, Carlos Pasquotto '24, and Lucca Rodrigues '24.
Chaperones: Matthew Kuizon '11, Jason Kwo '21, Frankie Machado '21, Nico Machado '21, Corey Perich, Fernando Rodrigues, and Mark Stine '15.