This past June, 10 members of St. Rita High School’s junior class started off their summer breaks by doing a week-long service trip to Burnsville, North Carolina as part of the Habitat for Humanity project. Habitat for Humanity is an organization that helps less-fortunate families with their damaged homes and communities. Burnsville is located in the heart of the Appalachian Mountains in the northwestern part of North Carolina. It is not anything resembling the south side of Chicago.
The St. Rita students, Brian Houlihan, Liam Forde, Brad Glazier, Jimmy Wang, Luke Blaesar, Zack Maderak, Dan Maikisch, Tim Lux, Chris Kapa, and Joey Butler were accompanied by three adult chaperones, Mr. Dave Conrath (teacher/coach at St. Rita), Mr. Dan Madden (Augustinian volunteer), and Mr. Ed Leiser (Director of Alumni Relations).
After a 14-hour drive to our temporary home at Higgins Methodist Church, our guys were ready to begin helping families of the poverty-stricken Burnsville community. One of our guides, a woman named Donna, informed us of some of the hardships her town has faced and is currently facing.
In a town littered with hills and slopes, many homes get damaged with severe flooding. Organizations like Habitat for Humanity exist for the purpose of providing aid to these families’ homes. They rely on volunteers like our young Ritamen to help make a difference.
Donna blew us away when she said many homes didn’t even have indoor plumbing or running water—this was nothing like what we were used to in Chicago. We knew we entered a different state, but we weren’t aware we’d be entering a different world.
As we began our work on two different homes, our guys really got into the spirit of helping others and putting their own needs and concerns on the backburner in favor of these families. One of the houses contained nothing but ‘hand-me-down’ items accumulated over the years, but our fine young Ritamen were able to install a brand-new, beautiful wood floor for this family to enjoy—it was essentially the only thing in their house they could lay claim to as their own.
As we left the house at the end of the week, it was emotional to see the mother crying tears of thanks as she hugged our guys and thanked them for their hard work, compassion, and service. Her two young daughters took a liking to our guys immediately, and wanted to perform a Taylor Swift song on karaoke for them before they left—our guys were so happy that they left such an impact in their young lives in such a short amount of time. These two young girls and the family will absolutely always remember their week with St. Rita’s finest young men.
At another house, we were able to install a new gutter and ditch to fight against severe rain and flooding around the building. We learned that it was a project that was thought of years ago, but because of a critical lack-of-resources and manpower, the project was put on hold until we arrived. We were glad to take the project head on and finally give the building what it needed. It was alarming to us how a project like that had to wait so long to get done when it was so obvious that it was needed. It showed, again, how things were different from what we were used to in Chicago. We were quick to acknowledge that we take for granted so many things in our lives.
Of the many things that we will always remember, are the amazing Burnsville residents who welcomed us with open arms for our week in their town.
They were a beautiful collection of people who made it their mission to make sure that St. Rita was taken care of for the week. Anything we needed was provided for us. These were simple people who appreciated every little bit of help we were able to give them. We made a mark with them as well.
One of the days, three elderly women drove around town for two hours looking for the house we were working on just to give us a sandwiches and cold drinks for our lunch. They went above and beyond for us just because we were helping their town out a little bit. It was one of the nicest gestures any of us had ever seen. We all kind of pictured them being like our grandmothers, and who wouldn’t want to do anything for your grandmother?
The week was amazing and there are few things any of us would have rather done with our time. Helping others feels great and is something that inspired our Rita students from the beginning of our trip. They got a real joy out of seeing their hard work in action and how it would eventually help complete strangers. Like many of our St. Rita students, they did it just because it was the right thing to do.
It is great to know that the upcoming senior class will have these 10 bona-fide leaders already established. They will no doubt lead our upcoming school year and make it one of the best ever.
Every day at St. Rita, I get inspired by our students and their amazing work outside of the hallways and classrooms (their efforts in the classrooms speak for themselves). These 10 Ritamen changed lives and I know their lives were changed as well. It was another great week for St. Rita High School.