A Mercyhurst Prep student serves lunch at Our Daily Bread.

Fr. Mike Allison, the Chaplain at Merychurst Preparatory School in Erie, Pennsylvania,  and a group of incoming seniors recently spent a week in Baltimore volunteering at several Catholic Charities programs.

For ten years, Fr. Allison has orchestrated this trip, which is called the Ann Ryan Mission. Ann Ryan participated in the trip during her time at Mercyhurst and said it was one of the most meaningful experiences of her high school career. When Ann passed away her sophomore year in college from meningitis, her parents started a fund to help support the annual trip. This has allowed the tradition to continue and for the number of students who attend to grow. More than 80 students applied for the trip by writing an essay expressing their interest in the program.  This year twenty-three students were chosen.

Phil, one of the students on the trip, said that the men of Christopher Place advised the Mercyhurst students to be their own leader. Phil noted this was good advice as they prepare for their senior year and get ready to go to college and that he was touched by the way that the men at Christopher Place encouraged the students to stay alcohol and drug-free and to make good decisions while they are young.

“I needed to come here,” Phil said. “I’ve volunteered a bit in Erie, but this trip has already impacted me. On Monday, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but today I wanted to get up early and come to Our Daily Bread to help.”

Paula, a teacher at Mercyhurst and parent of a participant last year, has been coming for 5 years and says, “I really love watching the students have those wow moments . . .  when they really get it.” She adds that she sees them grow in their understanding of service and poverty during the trip.

Jessica, an alumni and current teacher at Mercyhurst, says, “I enjoy my role of helping the students sort out their day as they talk to me about their various experiences. Yesterday at Gallagher Services, I watched a young man go from being very uncomfortable and uninterested to a point of engaging with the clients. Also, this student was really moved by the men he met at Christopher Place Employment Academy later in the day.”

Fr. Allison says that many students who have been on the trip over the years have gone into the field of social service, in part because of their participation in the trip.

“We have former participants we keep in touch with who are social workers, psychologists, teachers, AmeriCorps members, and Teach for America participants,” he says.