Fordham University            The Jesuit University of New York

Manresa Urban Immersion
Spring Break Service Project 2014

A reflection by Nina Heyden, Manresa Scholar, FCRH 2017

Eleven members of the Manresa Community began Urban Immersion on Friday, March 14th by watching the documentary, Park Avenue, about the divide between the wealthy—particularly those involved in finance and business who reside at 740 Park Avenue (on the Upper East Side)—and the poor who live on Park Avenue to the North (in Harlem and the South Bronx). After spending the night at Martyrs' Court Jogues on Friday, we left our belongings at Fordham Bedford Housing, previously a convent, which now provides temporary living space and other services to families in need. Afterwards, we saw the Holocaust exhibit at the United Nations before visiting residents at the Mary Manning Walsh Nursing Home on 84th Street. The Jesuits at 14th Street hosted us for dinner on Saturday night and encouraged us to keep our spirits high throughout the weekend. On Sunday we served the hungry at the St. Francis Xavier Soup Kitchen, met with a Lutheran Minister, from St. Peter’s Church at 54th Street, who is involved in immigration reform, and attended Mass at the Church of St. Jean Baptiste on 76th Street. On the final day of the program, we met with members of the community at Covenant House, a shelter for homeless youth between the ages of 18-20, before concluding with dinner and the “Pastoral Circle” reflection guided by members of the NYC Jesuit Volunteer Corps.

It was awesome to be part of the group of Manresa students and staff who were transformed by the experiences of the program. Through the trip I gained insight into simple living, learned of issues stemming from business-driven government interests, and practiced Jesus’ calling to meet people where they are. We embraced living simply with only necessities—sleeping on a cot or mattress pad, not overindulging in meals, taking the subway/walking, and living in the moment without exact details of how events would unfold. These practices helped us learn about and remain in solidarity with the New Yorkers we served.

Issues presented in the film, Park Avenue, were apparent in our service. Often, government decisions favor the wealthy who back politicians, while those experiencing economic, financial, social, or other kinds of injustice do not have the means to make change. For example, a large corporation owns the nursing home we visited along with several other residences (we learned that big business is preferred over private ownership). This system did not ensure the best care for residents, many of whom were disrespected/ignored by staff members, but rather was the most profitable arrangement for the City. While it was discouraging to witness injustices in the situation of the elderly, of hungry individuals, and of homeless youth, it was extremely encouraging to learn of the work performed by volunteers at Xavier soup kitchen and at Covenant house as well as the Jesuits and Jesuit Volunteer Corps.

The Jesuits at 14th Street stressed the importance of accepting that it might be beyond one’s capacity at any moment to change someone’s situation, but that humbly accompanying people in their trials is worthwhile. As I tried to put the motto of meeting people where they are into practice when meeting youths at Covenant House, I was shaken by their situation. Many of the youths referred to the person sitting next to them as their husband or wife; most of those with whom I spoke were pregnant and/or had children—representations of extremely young family life which are unfamiliar to me. Youths at Covenant House ideally receive help finding a job and get on their feet, but it seemed hard to focus in this environment (possibly one of the safest places of residence for them) as fights broke out between youths at the lunch table. Practicing Ignatius’s Examen helped us translate our experiences into future action. Communally, we can engage other members of our residence hall in collecting clothing donations for the youth at Covenant House, many of whom lack clothes for job interviews. Also, many of us are more motivated than ever to help those in need in our future careers and are thankful for the trip which reminded us of the greater purpose behind the work that we do as Fordham students. Overall, we are left with renewed gratitude for our blessings with knowledge that sharing our blessings with others will positively impact the world around us.

see the Manresa album in "Event HighLights" for photos from the trip.

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