By Cory Hodsen ’11
Myself and seven other students left Xaverian in bus number two and Mr. Howard’s “Big Red Truck” early on the morning of April 16. I was excited that I had the opportunity to serve with my classmates but apprehensive at the unknown. Emerging from the bus at Mr. Howard’s house in Quimby, Maine after a nearly eight-hour ride felt like an achievement in its own right. We settled in to the house and shared a meal as a group. Our first night’s reflection consisted of the group talking about what prompted them to apply for Xaverian’s Global Encounter (XGE) and, in particular, the trip to Maine. We shared what worried us and what we looked forward to the most.
The next day, early in the morning, we visited the Forest Hill nursing home. We greeted the residents as they woke. I was surprised at just how much spirit some of the residents had and how truly happy and grateful they were. We began in the morning with a group praying of the rosary, a particularly poignant way to start the day, being on a faith-based service trip. Then we moved on to exercises with the residents using a balloon. For some odd reason, when the woman asked for one of us to volunteer to continue playing with the residents, I popped up. I looked like an absolute fool and had an awesome time doing it.
During lunch, we sat as a group and talked with a few particularly sharp residents whom had been born and lived in the Fort Kent area. We were inquisitive and they were delighted to answer in great depth. We watched a homemade video that featured some of the natural beauty of the Fort Kent area. Our group now had a better understanding of the area and the unique and faith-filled people who live there.
We spent the rest of the week working with Catholic Charities in Caribou, Maine. Dixie Lee Shaw is the program director of a well-oiled machine that gives unbelievable amounts back to the community. Aroostook County is the largest county east of the Mississippi. While the area is huge, there are only about 72,000 residents; an alarming half of those utilized, at one point or another last year, one of the 24 food pantries in the county. The food bank stood on the same ground as a thrift shop whose proceeds go entirely towards buying food for the area. We moved furniture and boxes out of a storage facility, clearing four in all and saving Catholic Charities around $6,000.00 the next fiscal year. We helped them open another thrift shop in Presque Isles, which opened since our departure and has been doing really well. Dixie’s upbeat and motivational attitude was contagious. It was easy to find in her the inspiration to power through any awkwardness we felt throughout the week and keeping our goals set on helping others.
In the middle of our service, we were treated to a ten-inch late April snowstorm reminding us that we were at the northern most point in the continental United States and on the Canadian border. Later in our trip, we would visit the Fort Kent Blockhouse. The blockhouse is the only fortification relating to the “Bloodless” Aroostook War of 1838-1839, and the border dispute between Great Britain and the United States.
Another inspiring person we had the opportunity to meet was AmeriCorps volunteer Morgan January. Morgan grew up in Oklahoma with a similar situation to many of the guys on the trip; she was a comfortable middle class kid. I asked her what prompted her to be a part of AmeriCorps, she said that there was always something tugging at her, reminding her how important it was to serve and to help others. All week long, we saw her constant positive attitude. On the last day, she spoke to us for over an hour about exactly how the processing and distribution of food works and every major and minor detail in between.
I was inspired at how hard she worked, how committed she was and continues to be as she recently renewed her contract for another year in the county. Morgan recounted a story to us about a woman she met on a visit to one of the county’s two-dozen food pantries. A small elderly woman began to tremble, cry and look down at her feet. She looked up with tears in her eyes and said “Morgan, I haven’t eaten cheese in three years, thank you so much for what you have done.” It is amazing that a block of cheese led to such a special moment like that, Morgan realized this and began to tear up herself as she told us the story.
By far the most interesting aspect of the week was answering the question “What brings you guys to the county?” By the latter half of the trip the response from all of us was concise and uniform, “We’re here with our school on an outreach and service trip.” The real answer for others and myself remains unarticulated still today. It is not because we wiped out poverty in the county and changed the lives of those in the nursing home, rather because we experienced it. We experienced something different, foreign and uncomfortable. By doing so, each member of the group learned and explored the area of northern Aroostook county yet also learned and explored sides of themselves they may have never known existed.