Students participating in the H.O.P.E. Service Immersion Program have limited access to their cell phones when they go on a service trip. Campus Ministry institutes this policy to allow them to reflect upon and fully engage with the program’s four tenets—honoring our neighbor, organizing for justice, practicing peace and encountering God.

When students gave up their devices during their H.O.P.E. experience in March 2020, they were given a gift that the rest of us were craving as the pandemic began—the ability to unplug.

“None of them had any idea what was going on in the news. When our students got the call to leave because Stonehill was shifting to remote learning, they went from being immersed in their service experience to a world in the middle of a pandemic. Many describe coming home as being an otherworldly experience,” said Colleen Schoeck, campus minister for service immersion.

H.O.P.E. shifted to a virtual format in January 2021 in response to the pandemic. Approximately 60 students met with service organizations and representatives from marginalized communities over Zoom to address social justice issues. Though the program’s facilitators did a great job despite the disruption, everyone is excited to see H.O.P.E. return to an in-person format this summer.

H.O.P.E. New Orleans participants take a short break to pose for the camera.

Finding Peace Amid Life’s Chaos

This season’s two H.O.P.E. trips will take place in New England. One group will work with the people of Nibezun, a cultural center residing on sacred Wabanaki land along the Penobscot River in Maine. This immersion will focus on indigenous rights. Participants will learn about the history of the Wabanaki tribe by meeting with historians and native elders. Katelyn Samios ’22 and Gianna Barboza ’23 will lead this program.

“The people that we have spoken to from the community are excited to have us and we are excited to go and be present with them,” Samios said. “We are the first group they’ve welcomed into the community since COVID-19, which is a huge honor.”

Barboza is excited that this trip will allow her the opportunity to participate in activities that are good for her mind, body and soul. 

“I think it’s definitely going to be a cleansing experience for me,” she said. “I hope that this trip will help me find peace amid the chaos of everyday life.”

The other H.O.P.E. group will travel to Ware, Massachusetts, to collaborate with the Agape Community, a lay Catholic residential community. This experience will focus on ecological sustainability and living a nonviolent lifestyle. The Agape Community grows crops that are later donated to people facing food insecurity. Led by Desiree Ruiz Ramoz ’23 and Colton Varholak ’23, Stonehill students will assist with various farming projects.

Ramoz has participated in H.O.P.E. since her first year at Stonehill. Just before the pandemic began, she traveled to Alabama and Georgia on a civil rights-focused immersion. In 2021, she took part in a virtual experience that explored immigrant and farm worker rights. Since joining H.O.P.E., the current junior has come to love the reflection sessions that take place at the end of every day. 

“You really get to dive deep with one another and process everything that is happening,” Ramoz said. “I think the reflections help bring you closer to the other participants. I’ve made some great friends through this program.” 

Varholak, who last year led a virtual immersion on environmental sustainability and indigenous rights with a community learning network out of Santa Fe, New Mexico, is actively contracted with the United States Military as part of Stonehill’s ROTC program. After he graduates, he will serve his country for four years. He then plans to pursue a career in law enforcement.

“The army and law enforcement are people businesses,” Varholak said. “As an officer, you should be someone that people can rely upon, someone they can be open with. I like that H.O.P.E. allows me to hone my interpersonal skills.” 

H.O.P.E. participants enjoy dinner with a group of students from Emmanuel College during a previous immersion experience with Andre House, a ministry that provides services to men and women experiencing the effects of poverty.

A Transformative Experience

Campus Ministry’s upcoming H.O.P.E. trips are not only the first in-person service immersions to take place since the pandemic’s onset; they are also the first to be organized by Colleen Schoeck,  who began working at Stonehill in January 2022. The Campus Ministry staffer joins the College from Our Lady of the Assumption Parish, located in Marshfield, Massachusetts. There,   she oversaw youth ministry and religious education programs.

As she acclimates to her new role, the Stonehill employee has enjoyed getting to know the student leaders overseeing the upcoming immersions.

“I’ve been meeting one-on-one with them to get to know their life direction and where their spirituality has taken them,” she said. “I’ve tried to learn how I can be of support to them. Developing those relationships has been so meaningful to me.”

Though the deadline to participate in this season’s trips has passed, those interested in the service experience are encouraged to contact Campus Ministry for more information. Students should also keep an eye out for next year’s H.O.P.E. application, available September 2022. 

“H.O.P.E. is transformative no matter where you go or which community you serve,” Schoeck said. “The students come back changed and ready to take positive action in the world. It is truly one of the most impactful things you can do during your college experience.”