International service program

Published: March 31, 2016

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Andre is 63 years old. He sings at his church and firmly believes in God.

“If you are moved to get up and sing and dance around, that is fine in my church,” he said.

Andre has lived in Washington, D.C. all his life. He has sung with famous artists such as Aretha Franklin at places like the Washington Monument. The largest audience he faced was 300,000 people. Despite being in the capital of the richest county in the world, Andre is homeless.

Four other students, one teacher and I spent five days volunteering at the Father McKenna Center and Food With Friends in the nation’s capital during spring break. FMC provides breakfast and lunch to homeless men as well as staffs case managers who provide job-hunting support. Food With Friends is a service that prepares meals, sending them to various locations in and around D.C.

I wanted to do a service trip for two reasons: experience a Scranton service trip before graduation and see the other side of the tracks.

One thing I learned from this trip: make sure to bring a bigger sleeping bag.

I slept on the floor of a chapel that became comfortable after a couple days. Over the course of five days, I changed in many ways.

In D.C., I was surprised by the humble and gracious nature of those I served. A man who looked barely 18 years old kept saying thank you because he was able to pick up a packaged meal that included a sandwich and chips.

I was surprised by how much work Food With Friends does for the homeless community. My group loaded dozens of meals onto a cart and, even with the combined number of our group and another school’s group, it seemed like more people would have helped.

I came in to D.C. with a lot of questions. By the end, I had some answered, but left with more.

On the first night, I asked a fellow senior on the trip what I, as a person, could improve on. He didn’t have an answer so I asked again the second night. I will always remember his reply, “stop worrying about what to work on.” Thank you, you know who you are.

On the fifth day, Bo, a staff member, who worked his way out of homelessness two years ago, matched a homeless man to a Scranton volunteer to talk for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, we would introduce one another in front of about 40-50 men in the chapel.

Andre’s middle name is Michael, but his last name escapes me. I wish I could remember his last name, but in those 15 minutes I only got a glimpse of the man, not his whole life. That was impossible to encapsulate in such a short time. He got a glimpse of my life too. He introduced me as a mix of a introvert-extrovert type person.

Andre said that people who go on service trips are making steps to improve the world. He told me I can do anything in life, and I should, because life is short.

Since he and I were the last pair to introduce each other, Andre was asked to sing. His beautiful rendition of “Amazing Grace” lifted my soul, pulling me to the spirit of God through his voice. It brought chills down my spine and I almost shed tears. Andre might be homeless, but his soul is wealthy and beautiful.

Keep singing brother.

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