St. Mary’s Mission Trip 2009

As some of you know, I took last week off from work for vacation. I didn’t go anywhere exotic, it wasn’t a week laying on the beach and it definitely was not a week full of sleep and relaxation. For the past week, I have been out of touch with the modern world. I took 5 1/2 days off from work to chaperone my church’s mission trip to Queens, NY.

In a brief summary, I slept on a gym floor with no A/C, the showers had cold water and no water pressure, and that is when the water was actually running, it was the hottest week of the summer so far and I was running around outside, basically feeling as gross as ever for a week. That said, I had the best week I could have asked for. I served others. I witnessed teens grow and give more of themselves than I would have ever done at their age. I was reminded of my real purpose in this world. In short, I cannot think of a better way for me to have spent half of my vacation time this year.

July 24th
On Friday I left work halfway through the day to come home and finish packing up before heading to URI for the weekend for the Steubenville East Conference with about 60 teens from St. Mary’s youth group. After a relatively uneventful trip up to URI, Rob & I met up with our group during the opening festivities, right before adoration. Being there before adoration began was wonderful as it gave me time to focus on why I was there and to remove everything else going on in my life from my mind. Once the whole opening festivities were over, we had a chance to break into our small groups. For the weekend I co-lead my group with one of the most wonderful women I have ever met; my friend Lynn. We had a group of 5 teens that we sporadically met up with during the weekend to debrief and discuss with. By the end of Friday, I was completely overwhelmed, but in a good way. There was just so much going through my head and I had just witnessed about 1500 teens blowing my mind away in adoration.

July 25th
Saturday came soon enough, especially due to the little sleep I had Friday night. After breakfast we split into women’s and men’s sessions. The women met in the basketball stadium and after a very lively rendition of Taylor Swift’s You Belong With Me, we were blessed to hear Shannon Deitz‘s witness. Shannon’s witness was followed by the most entertaining mass I have ever sat through. Fr. Jose, accompanied by about 12-15 other priests and brothers, said mass for all of us. Fr. Jose’s homily may have been the longest homily I have ever heard, but it was also one of the few that I have been so enthralled in what he was saying that I didn’t want it to end. I mean, have you ever started singing na-na-na-na in the middle of a mass? Fr. Jose taught the kids to say good-bye to the people and things in their life that are holding them back (well, actually he wants them to say na-na-na-na, na-na-na-na, hey-hey-hey, ADIOS BABY!). After some lunch and down time, we headed off to workshops followed by some more small group time. Saturday evening’s session again included adoration but this time, Fr. Jose walked around the stadium with the monstrance giving almost everyone a chance to reach out and touch Jesus Christ. After this powerful experience, we were again given some time to regroup in our small groups before heading to bed.

July 26th
After packing the cargo van and eating some breakfast, Sunday was spent in the basketball stadium again. We were all blessed with Joia Farmer‘s witness and lots of praise and worship before mass and heading out for Youth Works. Once mass was over, we headed to the parking lot to take a group picture and head out to Queens. In the process of splitting up into our cars, saying good-bye to the few people who were heading home and taking our group picture, one of the mini-vans we rented got a flat tire. Since I had met the crew at URI, I took 4 seniors, Mike, Annie, Courtney & Joan, who were in a car with one of the chaperones who was heading home; Mike was our navigator (and I must say he did a great job). Once the picture was taken, all of us loaded up cars and headed for Queens while Lynn stayed back with Bob and all the kids from both their cars to wait for AAA to come and fix the tire. The rest of us headed down 95 and stopped at Hammonasset State Park for lunch. We ate some pizza, walked the beach and watched 8 of the kids jump in (and get thrown into the Long Island Sound). Once they attempted to dry off, we loaded up our cars once more and headed for Jamaica, Queens. We arrived in Queens a bit later than expected due to Sunday afternoon traffic on I-95. When we did arrive, we were greeted by our Youth Works staff and unloaded all our cars and cargo into the building we would be sleeping in.

The girls slept upstairs in the gymnasium while the guys were on the first floor in the auditorium. Once our belongings were inside and sorted, it was time for dinner. The teens joined the Youth Works crew in the Club Room while the chaperones grabbed dinner and went to a meeting to get prepped for the week. Our days would all be structured about the same:

  • breakfast
  • devotions
  • work site
  • break
  • dinner
  • evening activity
  • club
  • church group time

July 27th
Monday morning began at 7am with breakfast and being split into our work crews. Myself and Patty were the leaders for the GIANTS.We had 10 students in our group and after our daily devotions, we headed to Madison York Assisted Living Center. We spent the majority of the day with the elderly that live there. We talked, played cards, catch, BINGO, dominos and did puzzles with them. Since the center has a kosher kitchen, we took our lunches across the street and ate in Corona Park and played on the playground for a bit before heading back inside. That afternoon I had a very interesting talk with a gentleman who lived there named Salvador. He is an Italian man with 4 children, whom he does not see often. He explained to me that they live far away and with their own children and work they do not have the time to visit him often. This hit me hard and made me feel sad for him. I can’t imagine what it must feel like to have no family around and no visitors; whenever someone from my family has been in the hospital or a nursing home, they always have at least one or two visitors a day. We also talked about faith. He said he no longer believed in any religion. He only believed in his mother and father and good people and bad people. After his parents both died, he did not believe there could be a God. He explained to me in very broken-English what he experienced as a child and that loosing his father at such a young age along with what a priest in Italy did to him as a child, he left the church. When I asked him about whether he believed in Heaven and Hell he said “no”. I kept discussing this with him as I did not understand why he believed that people choose to be good or bad but that does not affect them after death. He believes that when you die, that’s it. You get buried and there is no more. He does not want to believe that there could be more, just that people can be good or bad while here on earth and there is no real reason to choose either, just however you wish to live your life. He told me that he thought that what I was doing was being a good person and almost made me cry. Once we were back at the church we stayed at, we had a break to change and relax before dinner and our night activity. Our dinner was soft tacos and/or taco salad. (A note about our meals at Youth Works — all of our breakfasts and dinners were prepared by different work crews. The breakfast crew woke up early to go to the kitchen and prepare breakfast before anyone else was awake. While down in the Club Room for breakfast we would also pack bagged lunches for the day. Dinners were also prepared by a work crew. And both breakfast and dinner dishes were washed and put away by a work crew.) On Monday night we headed to Rockaway Beach for our evening activity. We were unable to go swimming due to the time and the riptide, but the boys kept busy playing football while the girls played Face and talked by the water’s edge. We then headed back for Club where the group was able to share “Yay! Gods” and “Mad Props”. “Yay! Gods” was a way for them to share how they saw Christ working through another person (or people) that day and “Mad Props” was a time to encourage others for doing good and setting up to the plate that day. Club also included some praise & worship along with a teaching/witness from one of our Youth Work’s staff members, Daniel. We then broke into our small groups. I had the same small group as at Steubenville, expect my co-leader was not Lynn as she had headed home. I was paired with Steve, who even though he was new to the group, was able to guide and lead the kids so wonderfully this week.

July 28th
Tuesday was very similar to Monday. My work group went to the same work site. The only difference during the day was instead of walking across to the park, we jumped in our cars and drove to the Marina at the other end of the park for lunch. We headed to the marina to meet up with another work group who was painting benches that day so they would have some other company besides the 5 of them. Leaving the Assisted Living Home was hard, even though we had only been there for 2 days. We made such good relationships with the people there in that short time, we didn’t want to leave them. We learned that one of the older men that we took for a walk that day usually sits in the Rec room doing nothing and not interacting with the others. We not only took him for a walk, but played cards with him and brought him to the Exercise room to play catch. Knowing we had helped one man do things he wouldn’t normally do made me see how much good we really were doing. We headed back to Jamaica to meet up with everyone. After break we had some pizza for dinner before heading to Corona Park in Flushing, NY for a photo scavenger hunt. In our work groups we needed to get photos of the following:


  • a picture playing with a borrowed toy from someone in the park
  • a picture dancing with Julio (one of the YW staff members)
  • a picture spelling a word in the grass
  • a picture being as relaxed as possible
  • a picture with a stranger acting out a scene from the bible (our team borrowed a little girl and took a picture of the nativity scene which won most creative picture)
  • a picture of human bowling
  • a picture with the ice cream lady
  • a picture catching a frisbee or football mid-air
  • a picture of a human pyramid in front of a historical person
  • a picture jumping like kangaroos in front of Australia on the Unisphere

After the photo scavenger hunt, we had some free time in the park before heading back for Club. Instead of small groups on Tuesday night we had mass said by one of the priests from our Church who came down just to say mass for us.

July 29th
On Wednesday we went to a different work site. The Giants & the Jets spent the morning planning two days of Kids Club. Kids Club is a day camp for kids in the area to come from 12-3 everyday for a safe place to play and learn about God. We played with the kids for a while, then brought them to the park across the street. The park has fountains that they kids used to fill cups, bottles and bags to get us drenched. We were soaked and the sun was not out, so we were cold too. We took a break from playing with the kids to pray with them, sing some songs and then did some arts and crafts. When it was time to pray, I lead the group in prayer where the kids would repeat every line after me. We thanked God for our friends, for the fun we had, for a new day and the like. When I finished praying, a boy no older than 6 or 7 added a line to his prayer — he didn’t want to be killed that night. This really got to me. It’s not something that I have ever had to pray about; it’s not something that I’ve ever had to think about. Hearing a little kid have to ask God for this blew me away. I can’t imagine being in a place where this is something that you need to ask for; I’ve always taken for granted the fact that I live in a safe community and don’t need to worry about this even though many people do have to worry about it. This little kid wasn’t the only one who touched me and make me realize how blessed I am that day. For dinner on Wednesday we served and mingled with the community at the soup kitchen that the church we were staying at has every Wed. night. We ate dinner before the soup kitchen opened to the public. When people started coming in, many of us were cleaning up our dinner. I ate dinner with two of my friends and since one of them was off to serve dinner, I took the liberty to clean up all our dinners by combining the garbage together so I could stack the plates. When Javier was on his way to the garbage with a bowl that contained the combined remnants of 3 half eaten salads and fruit salads, a man stopped him to ask if he was going to throw it out. When the man heard that the food was headed for the garbage he asked for it and despite the fact that it had already been eaten from, he took it to eat it. Knowing that someone was eating my leftovers that were headed for the trash, leftovers that were the combined parts of two dishes from each of 3 people really hit me. I realized that I have a privilege to trow away food I don’t want or like. I knew that throwing out some of my food wouldn’t mean that I would go hungry. I knew I still had snack later that night and would continue eating 3 meals a day for the rest of the week. This guy however didn’t care that he was eating my leftovers because he hadn’t eaten yet that day. He wasn’t guaranteed to have a meal the next day. He had to hope he got to the soup kitchen before they ran out of food for that meal. I’ve always been told that I was lucky to be from Ridgefield, that I had all these privileges and opportunities that others didn’t. This whole week, especially Wednesday showed me this. Once the soup kitchen ended, we headed downstairs to the underground. The youth minister had a presentation and brought us a speaker to talk to us about truly being free from things so we could put God above all. After that we had WAR!!!!!!!!! It was the largest, most complicated card game of war I have ever witnessed and I will not explain it to anyone unless they are there to witness it. After war we had root beer floats, my small group/work group made 100 water balloons and we had our final small group.

July 30th
Thursday was almost the same as Wednesday, however instead of planning for Kids Club we went to work sites for the morning as well. My car went to a day care center and played with the kids there for a couple of hours. Patty and her crew worked the soup kitchen at the church where we have Kids Club and the Jets headed to do some prep for a VBS. After our morning ministry sites and lunch, we all met for Kids Club. Since it was the final day of Kids Club for the week, it was water day. We had a water balloon toss and bucket races before heading to the park across the street for a sponge fight. Again, we all ended up soaked and freezing, but it was worth it for the kids to have the fun they did. After Kids Club ended, we packed up and headed back to the church to dry off and change into wet clothes. We had a little break and then headed right back to the church where Kids Club was at to have a community Bar-B-Q. There were a bunch of kids from Kids Club there with their families and a bunch of people from the soup kitchen that afternoon. Once the cookout was over, we headed back to the church we were staying at for one last time. We went down to the Club room for our final Club and then spent our church group time debriefing the week.

July 31st
Friday morning began at 5:40am when all the girls woke up as quietly as possible to sneak out before the guys could come up to wake us. Once the boys’ found the sleeping area empty, we returned to finish packing up our bags and packing the cars. We ate some breakfast and then cleaned up the two buildings we were using. Once everything was cleaned, we closed with the Youth Works staff and headed to mass at a nearby Catholic Church. After mass, all but a handful of us pilled into the cars and headed for Jones Beach. While it was an extremely overcast day and the riptide was rough, we had a blast. We went swimming, the boys played some football and we hung out on the beach getting terrible sunburns before heading home. Fortunately we were able to get over the bridge and about half-way home before the rain hit, and it hit hard. We all headed back to St. Mary’s before heading home for showers and some much needed sleep.

I know this post was long but I still feel that it does not do my week justice. There is so much that I witnessed that cannot be put into words and described properly. Three of the seniors made a movie that shows more of the week and you can watch it here. Plus I’ve got tons of pictures you should check out on Facebook. It was a week truly just doing God’s work and serving others. The youth grew and bonded; the chaperones learned from the kids; it was everything you could ask for from a mission trip and so much more.

Maine — Day 3

Yesterday morning was our last day in Maine. I woke up earlier than Mary and Kristen to head to St. Mary’s for mass. It was a cute little church and you could tell it was a parish of elderly people and some of us that we there just for vacation. After mass, I headed back to the hotel for us to pack up and check out before we headed out.

Our first stop was in York at Stonewall Kitchen, where we spend far too long wandering the store. We all tried new things and came up with a whole bunch of things each of us liked and wanted to cook with. We then tried to find downtown Kittery to drive around another little seaside town, but we were not able to find anymore than the outlets so we decided to head back to Ogunquit. We drove from Kittery to Ogunquit along the water which was very nice. We decided to spend a little bit of time on the beach in Ogunquit while eatting lunch (ice cream for all of us). It was a gorgeous day and getting to spend some time on the beach before heading home for a long drive was just what I needed.

Again, we were extremely fortunate and did not hit much traffic on the way home. The most traffic we hit was on the Mass Pike (I-90) where there was rubbernecking due to an accident on the other side of the highway.

Here’s all my pictures from Maine.

Maine — Day 2

Today we woke up and headed to Portland early in the morning. We wanted to get there early to get our tickets for our ferry to Bailey Island. We were plenty early, but we were glad as we got to walk around downtown Southern Portland. While exploring the area, we stumbled across the US Customs House which made me really excited as I work in the import/export industry and actually know a bit about customs and regulations now. Then while walking down the street Mary and I found a sign that made us both very happy…

After exploring a bit, we went back to the ferry terminal and boarded the ferry. It took about two hours to get to Bailey Island. The view from the ferry was a bit dull as there was plenty of fog in the morning, but it was a nice ride out. We ate at a place called Cooks, then wandered around a bit taking in the sights. The ferry ride back was better, minus the brief 3 minute downpour. We were able to get much better pictures and see further out from the boat.

We then headed back to the hotel to change into some warmed clothes and drove down to Kennebunkport. We walked around downtown for a bit and headed to Alisson’s for dinner. It was one of the greatest meals out that I have eaten in a while. I had the best steak tips I’ve ever had (and those of you who know me, know I eat my fair share of meat). We then stopped by the local candy store to buy some fudge and headed down to Gooch’s Beach to see the town fireworks.

Maine — Day 1

So we woke up bright and early yesterday morning, 5:15 for me, which was hard since we got home at 12:10AM. Mary and I got our stuff together and headed to Dunkin’ Donuts before picking Kristen up. Once we were all in the car, we got a full tank of gas and got on the road. Fortunately we didn’t hit traffic at all on the way there. We were checked into the hotel and in our room at about 11AM.

After changing and figuring out what to do, we got some more gas and headed to Ogunquit for the afternoon. We walked around the downtown area, ate some lunch and headed down to the beach. The water was a bit cold, but refreshing to put our feet in. After spending a bit of time on the beach, we took another stroll around downtown Ogunquit.

We decided to go to Mike’s Clam Shack for dinner. It’s a nice place in Wells, ME where apparently a bunch of the locals go. It was good food and reasonable for us. Kristen and I had our lobster dinners that are a must have when visiting Maine. After dinner, we headed back to the hotel we stayed at in Biddeford. We took a little dip in the pool before heading to our room and were all fast asleep quickly.

Mary came to visit!

So today I didn’t exactly “travel”. My friend Mary flew out from Denver to visit for a week. Mary and I met while studying abroad in Ireland, details of that adventure can be found here. I spent last night on Long Island at my grandma’s house so I would be closed to JFK to get Mary since she flew in on the red eye. So I picked Mary up and we drove back to CT so she could shower and drop her stuff off at my house.

After that I took Mary on a mini drive through Ridgefield, I mean, what could I really show her besides Main Street? We grabbed breakfast at Steve’s then got coffee from Dunkin’ Donuts before heading to Goldens Bridge to get the train to the city. We spent all morning catching up, which wasn’t too much since we’ve kept in pretty good contact since we’ve been home from Ireland.

The first thing we did in the city was to go down to Wall Street. Mary’s in finance and it made me excited that she wanted to see the financial district (tell tale sign that I’m growing up? I think so). So we saw the NYSE, Trinity Church (commonly known as being the church from National Treasure), the Wall Street bull (which is actually at Bowling Green), Battery Park and Ground Zero. It was weird being at Ground Zero, especially since its in a state of disarray and in my opinion it looked more like something when there was still a pile of debris there, not a construction site that we have sitting there.

We then ventured a walk uptown to SoHo and were fortunate to beat the rain to our location. it started to drizzle a few blocks from where we were headed and we walked into SoHo Park maybe 30 seconds before it began to downpour. SoHo Park is a great little burger joint that is so reasonably priced; I suggest you all try it someday if you ever need a burger in the area.

Then we headed to midtown and took a walk down 5th Ave. we saw the Empire State building and I showed Mary where I work. After our little walk, we headed to Grand Central to take the subway up to the new Yankee Stadium. We were going to the game with another friend from Ireland, Tim, his girlfriend and some of their friends from home. We first went over to Billy’s before the game started and I must say, I rather liked the bar. It’s a great place for drinks near the stadium. Unfortunately the Yankees did lose on Thursday, but I had a good time nonetheless.

Not only was it my first time at the new stadium, but it was my first time taking the train home from the stadium. I was a bit skeptical of how well the whole system would work since I’m not on the Hudson line, but it was really easy and I have definitely found my new way to get to and from the stadium.

Pictures from California

All my pictures are up on Shutterfly and can be found through the following links:

Pictures from San Fran:

Pictures from Yosemite:

Pictures from Carmel/Monterey:

BTW – some of the pictures are blurry due to all the haze and smoke from the forest fires which aren’t all too far from where we were at.

Day 11 – San Fran to Home

Today we woke up at 8am and got ready before heading down for some breakfast. Then we came back up to finish packing everything up and left the hotel at 10:50am to head to the airport. We were checked in and sitting at the gate at 11:30am for our 2:35pm flight. I got a bunch of reading done and walked around the airport. The flight back wasn’t bad and I got the window seat.

When we got to JFK at 11:15pm, we got our luggage which seemed to take forever. Then we loaded up Mom’s car ad headed to Joan’s to drop her and Kevin off. Then Mom & Dad took me home. Now I’m off to bed as I have work at 10am in Westport.

Pictures will be up soon…I hope!

Day 10 – Carmel Valley to San Fran

Today we were up at 8am to pack up the car and head to San Fran. We grabbed some breakfast before taking off on our drive. We had some problems near the end with our GPS, but we found the hotel in San Fran. We are back at the same Holiday Inn that we were in last week.

After checking in, we walked down to Hyde Street Pier and grabbed lunch on the Wharf. We were all cold and tired, so we headed back to the hotel to watch the movie, Firehouse Dog and get ready for the SF Giants game tonight. In the process of getting ready for the game, Kevin and Joan found that Kevin left his brand new jacket in Carmel Valley at the hotel.

We drove down to AT&T Park and watched the SF Giants loose a game to the Chicago Cubs.
After the game there were fireworks which got lost in the fog but they were still nice.

Now we are getting ready to go home in the morning…

Day 9 – Monterey

Today I got ready before waking the others up again and Joan stayed in bed for a while since she said she had a pain in her leg. We finally got ready so we could get breakfast at the hotel before it was over.

After breakfast we headed to Monterey and to the Aquarium. This was an amazing aquarium and we spent hours there. I loved that there we penguins!!! I was so excited. While we were there we grabbed lunch and I had an amazing Hawaiian pizza. Then we went for a walk down Cannery Row and had a wonderful dinner. I got steak and a drink. The steak was great, not so much the drink.

Now we are back at the hotel and packing pretty much everything up since we are heading back to San Fran tomorrow and home the next day.

Day 8 – Pebble Beach & Pacific Grove

Today I woke up at 7:30am, got ready and then woke everyone up before we headed to breakfast. My day was made when they had raisin bagels and chocolate muffins 🙂

We drove back through Carmel and to Pebble Beach, via the Carmel Gate where we hopped on the 17-mile drive. There will be plenty of pictures up for you to see of the views. The whole thing is gorgeous and I really hope that I can go back and play some golf there some day. We left Pebble Beach via the Pacific Grove Gate. We went for another drive along the ocean in Pacific Grove. We ate lunch in the historic downtown at Toasties. None of our lunches sat well with any of us…

We also went for a walk through the town and saw many antique stores. We stopped in at the American Can Tinnery and walked around while I had my conference call about my reunion. Then we played black light mini golf. Kevin and I were in the lead by 1 after the front 1/2 and I ended up winning by 1 and was 4 ahead of Joan.

We got back to the hotel at 4:30pm so I went up to the wine and cheese hour that the hotel has and I was the only one there, but I got some good white wine. We then went into Carmel Valley and had an awesome dinner at the Running Iron. We were the first tourists they have had in a while and the waiter was hilarious!