Merrimack College has been participating in long-distance, weeklong service experiences for more than 50 years.
Service opportunities through the Grace J. Palmisano Center for Campus Ministry give Merrimack students the opportunity to embody key aspects of our Augustinian heritage, which emphasizes intellectual, spiritual and personal growth through community life and service to others. We hope that these programs draw students closer to God through reflecting on how their communal experience of doing service and working toward justice connects with and influences their individual spiritual journeys. Our service programs invite students to serve in a diverse array of domestic and international locations. Each location provides students with rich experiences that engage skills they learn on campus and challenge them to expand their perspectives about themselves and their responsibilities to others within the context of a global society. Service programs emphasize four pillars.
These experiences have provided students with opportunities to explore their faith in the context of serving with, and for, other communities around the United States. We hope that students will be able to use these interactions to develop a “faith that does justice” through reflecting on our four pillars.
The Four Pillars
This pillar acknowledges the importance of giving back to others by way of action. Service can come in many forms, including sitting and talking to Ecuadorian people, serving lunch at a soup kitchen, or sorting food at a food bank. We believe that “service” is a lifestyle. Even though alternative break groups serve for only a week, this service is meant to inspire a deeper commitment to serving others in every aspect of life, especially as members of the Merrimack community.
This pillar points to the reality that are one human family whatever our national, racial, ethnic, economic, and ideological differences. We are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers, wherever they may be. Loving our neighbor has global dimensions in a shrinking world. On our trips, this takes the shape of humility and presence in the communities where we serve. Simple living is an important element of practicing solidarity during our trips. We pack lightly, eat what is prepared for us, sleep in the spaces provided for us, and limit our use of technology so we can give of ourselves more freely to others. Each trip interprets simple living in their own way, whether it be through a community contract, a vow to use minimal resources, or making it work on a tight budget.
This pillar highlights the importance of sharing experiences and building equal, just, and loving relationships with one another. We come together as communities of participants who reflect together, serve, and build relationships with the individuals and communities for whom we serve.
The foundation of our program. Campus ministry staff and student leaders facilitate frequent reflection experiences before, during and after trips. These experiences are meant to help participants in our programs discover new perspectives about themselves, personally and spiritually. Additionally, reflection helps us engage with our service experiences on a deeper level by utilizing concepts in Catholic social teaching, such as the inherent dignity of the human person, our rights and responsibilities to others, and solidarity.
An overarching goal of the Alternative Break/International Service Immersion program is to work towards a more socially just society. We do this by examining our own lives, beliefs, and experiences; educating ourselves about systemic realities; participating in physical and spiritual work; and making connections with people and communities vulnerable to unjust systems, practices, and histories.
Finally, every dimension of our alternative break programs seek to embody the Augustinian values that inform the academic, social and spiritual dimensions of the Merrimack experience.