Mission-minded, students spend a week helping community

The midweek morning air was cooler than several St. Joseph Academy students — all bundled in sweatshirts and armed with construction tools — had expected. The dozen or so seniors and juniors alternated hammering boards with warming hands and raising walls with hopping side-to-side.


The wind cut through the framework of the Habitat for Humanity house, undermining any warmth the sun would have offered.

Aside from the occasional shiver, the crew took it in stride.

“They’ve been freezing all morning,” said Patrick Keane, the academy’s director of administration. “It’s been cold, it was in the 40s when they first got here.”

Keane is heading one of a dozen student groups for the school’s “Mission Week,” an annual community service project that gives students a chance to connect with people in need. The groups split up on Wednesday to visit over a dozen organizations including charities, shelters, day cares, nursing homes and assisted living facilities.

Lakyn Thompson, a senior at St. Joseph, was one of the first to volunteer her time toward the Habitat for Humanity project. She said she already completed the community service hours needed for graduation, so she was just on the job to help the cause.

“It’s really a good way for us to make a difference,” she said.

Matthew Heines, a junior, echoed that sentiment.

“It’s something different,” he said. “A way to give back to the community.”

The idea for Mission Week began a few years back when groups of students first started traveling overseas once a year to help third world communities with various projects.

This year, around 50 students are spending the week in Belize and the Dominican Republic.

But Todd DeClemente, the principal of St. Joseph Academy, said many students couldn’t partake in overseas efforts and were left behind, which prompted an idea.

“It was obvious there were kids who would love to go on a mission trip, but for a number of reasons couldn’t do it,” DeClemente said. “So we started asking who in town needed our help.”

The school teamed up with local law enforcement, city council and housing projects to pinpoint areas needing a little love.

“It’s an experience with poverty or an experience with someone or something outside of what they’re used to seeing in their own life,” DeClemente said. “But it’s still right here, still within the community.”

Nearly 300 students will spend the next day cleaning, gardening and servicing the Spanish Oaks area. The week will wrap up with project reflection where students can share what they experienced through their volunteer opportunities.

“It puts them in the position now, it takes them out of their comfort zone,” DeClemente said. “It’s putting them in a real position to do something good, and hopefully, that carries over into the future.”