The H.O.P.E. program—which stands for Honoring our neighbor, Organizing for justice, Practicing peace, Encountering God—is celebrating 25 years of engaging the Stonehill community in cross-cultural service immersion experiences. In honor of this milestone, SAM talked to an alum who found his life’s work through H.O.P.E. and a current student who is experiencing the program today.

Foundation of Service

Senior year, Thomas Hollywood ’98 was in good shape academically, set to graduate with a double major in International Studies and Spanish, as well as a minor in history.

Nevertheless, something bothered him. He was approaching the finish line, but he recalls, he didn’t have clarity about what he wanted to do with his life after graduation.

As it happens, an announcement from Campus Ministry caught his attention. In 1997, the office had launched a service immersion program—which came to be named H.O.P.E.—where 25 students and faculty went to Nicaragua to serve the community in a small village called Chacraseca.

Now Campus Ministry was promoting their second trip, inviting students to apply for a 10-day service immersion at Canto Grande, one of the most impoverished areas of Lima, Peru, where the Congregation of Holy Cross had established a ministry in 1977. Drawn to how in-depth and hands-on the program was, Hollywood applied, was accepted and joined a group of 22 students along with some staff and religious on the H.O.P.E. trip.

Monumental and formative, those 10 days so moved and enriched me that I could sense this was the path I wanted to pursue in life.

In Canto Grande, they spent their time rehabilitating the local school, Fe y Alegría, and learning about the needs and challenges of that underserved community. While there, things clicked for Hollywood, and he began to find the clarity that had previously eluded him.

“Monumental and formative, those 10 days so moved and enriched me that I could sense this was the path I wanted to pursue in life,” says Hollywood, who has spent the last 24 years as a humanitarian aid worker with frontline assignments.

After graduation, he spent over two years with the Cabrini Mission Corps in Argentina working in some of Buenos Aires’s poorest neighborhoods. After that, he launched, mentored and guided an international volunteer program for the Sisters of the Good Shepherd, with branches in Peru, Paraguay and Mexico.

He then earned his master’s degree, which paved the way for him to join Catholic Relief Services (CRS), which assists 190 million people in 110 countries. With CRS since 2007, Hollywood has responded to acute tragedies, such as a devastating earthquake in Ecuador and genocide in Sudan, and has collaborated with communities on chronic issues, including poverty in Malawi and hunger and malnutrition in Ethiopia.

After being based in various international locations for more than 14 years, Hollywood is now serving CRS in the U.S. It’s an opportunity for his young family to have more stability. Hollywood expects that he will return to fieldwork again at some point.

Reflecting on his H.O.P.E. trip and his current work, Hollywood notes that, despite having seen so much pain and suffering, he believes that progress can be made when people work in solidarity. “I’ve been blessed with the decisions I have made and through my humanitarian work really believe global solutions are possible,” he says. “We can make a difference, and that is very fulfilling. It is a lesson I learned through H.O.P.E. and at Stonehill.”

Shared Bonds

At Orientation 2019, a peer mentor’s enthusiasm for the H.O.P.E. program not only inspired Desiree Ruiz Ramoz ’23, but it also prompted her to integrate the program into her own Stonehill experience.

“Given my passion for social justice and travel, it seemed to be the best program for me, so I took a leap of faith,” recalls Ruiz Ramoz.

A psychology and English double major, she has participated in three service immersions, assuming new and more substantial responsibilities each time—first as a participant, then an immersion leader, and now an intern tasked with shepherding the yearlong program, which requires deep engagement from its participants.

Ruiz Ramoz is completing her fourth immersion in January, when H.O.P.E. reconnects with the Hope CommUnity Center in Apopka, a town in central Florida where much of the surrounding land is agricultural.

Founded by Catholic nuns, the center supports local groups in addressing illiteracy, the lack of access to healthcare and economic injustices. When she worked with the center in 2021, the immersion had to be virtual due to Covid restrictions on traveling. Ruiz Ramoz is eager to reconnect in a more hands-on way.

“Over seven days, we are delving into justice issues, especially around farmworker rights as well as immigration and border issues,” explains Ruiz Ramoz.

H.O.P.E. has given me a community I didn’t think I could find. I have shared bonds with so many people from all walks of life.

At the end of each workday, the volunteer group is gathering to reflect on their service and community interactions. “We gain new insights to the meaning of service and grow personally and in community,” says Ruiz Ramoz. “It is a time to process. Our goal is to bring hope back with us so that service continues to be part of our lives.”

Ruiz Ramoz has not limited her service just to H.O.P.E. She has done much more, especially in the diversity, equity and inclusion area. In recognition of her commitment to solving public problems, she received a prestigious Newman Civic Fellowship from Campus Compact, a nonprofit dedicated to civic and community engagement.

“H.O.P.E. has given me a community I didn’t think I could find,” explains Ruiz Ramoz, who is considering a year of service abroad before embarking on a career in higher education or graduate school. “I have shared bonds with so many people from all walks of life.”

Go Figure: H.O.P.E.

❖ 1,400+ students, faculty and staff who have participated in H.O.P.E. through the years.
❖ 20 domestic sites where H.O.P.E. programs have been held.
❖ 5 international sites where H.O.P.E. programs have been held.
❖ 9 programs planned for 2022–2023.
❖ 8 virtual H.O.P.E. programs held during the pandemic.

In 2022, the Taste of H.O.P.E. program was introduced and designed for students who are interested in participating in a service program but do not have the time or the financial ability to commit to a full H.O.P.E. service immersion.