Chicago Service Trip: My Experience


Danielle Lippert, Staff Writer, Advanced Journalism

When I first decided to sign up for the Chicago service trip, I was beyond excited. I didn’t think I would make the 18 students that would be picked from the applications for the trip, and I was right. I didn’t get picked. My hopes went down, and I was so upset that I wouldn’t be able to go on the trip.

A few days later, I received a slip of paper that asked me to go to Campus Ministry. I stopped in before art and was told that someone was unable to go, and I could have the opening spot.

A few months later and the night before the trip, I was lying in bed, and I suddenly got really nervous for the journey ahead of me. My family is not one to travel around. I had never actually been to Chicago.

The next morning I went to school like usual, and after homeroom, we left for our five and a half hour ride to Chicago. My van consisted of five classmates, our driver and me. For the first hour or two, we were all quiet or asleep. No one had much to say, but with two hours left, we all started talking. What else are you going to do when you’re in Chicago during rush hour? We all talked and sang along to some Disney Channel songs and just had a really good time. Here I was, worried about this trip, and now I was having a great time. Plus, it was only the beginning.

We arrived at the Darst Center and introduced ourselves and talked about the weekend ahead of us. We split off into four groups, two of which would prepare and clean up before and after dinner that night. We all sat, ate and talked about what we were expecting for the weekend.

Once we were done eating, groups one and two went to a men’s homeless shelter, and groups three and four, my group, went for a walk around Chicago. We took the tram to Wrigley Field. We walked around the lively and upbeat neighborhood. To say the least, I was amazed. I had never been in a big city before, except for Madison once or twice.

We walked past shops, bars and restaurants. Our retreat leader Keith told us to stop by a bar and read the “dress code” in the window. The two other girls in the group and I were confused. A dress code for a bar? It was nothing we had ever heard of. We stopped and read the sign. No sweatshirts. No hats. No sportswear. No plain white T-shirts. There were many other no’s on the long list, but these shocked me the most.

We also walked through a neighborhood given the name of “Boystown.” Boystown is the LGBT community in Chicago. We finished walking through the neighborhood and took the tram back to the Darst Center. Everyone was exhausted, but we had to do a reflection on our experience. We talked about what we saw and how it affected us. After a long talk, we all went to bed at one in the morning.

The next morning, my group prepared breakfast. After finishing up breakfast, groups B, C and D went to a soup kitchen called “2 Lil Fishes.” When we first arrived, we just sat and talked to the people sitting around. My friend and I talked to Felton.

Looking at Felton, you would think he was a normal guy, but he had gone through so much. Felton was an architect and had a job. One day, he wasn’t looking well, and his boss told him to go to the hospital. After getting examined, Felton found out he had had a mini stroke. He stayed in the hospital and went through many months of rehab. Finally, about seven months after his mini stroke, he was able to leave. Felton didn’t have a job or anywhere to go. He went to his mother’s house, but she was eighty-four. He stayed for a while, but then he knew he had to leave. I don’t know where Felton stays now, but he wants to get back on  his feet. He wants to start his own architecture company. We told Felton we’d be praying for him and went to help serve food.

After serving food, we also sat down and ate. A few of us talked to Isaac, a worker at 2 Lil Fishes. He explained to us how he got the name of the place. He didn’t want it to be called a soup kitchen; in fact, he refused to serve soup. He named it after a Bible story, the story about Jesus turning the loaves of bread and the two fish into a feast for more than 5,000 people.

Isaac also talked to us about how much he loved his job. He loved it, and the people who were there, so much that it brought him to tears. I started crying a little two, as did a few others. I never knew someone could love their job so much until I met Isaac.

After serving at 2 Lil Fishes, we went back to the Darst Center, talked about our experience and shared the people we met. Next, we split off into our groups and played a game called “Spent.”

We were placed in a situation that many people are in today. In the game, we had lost our job, home and most of our money, except for $1,000. We had a child, had to find a job and home. It was difficult, and we were just playing a game. Many people actually have to go through this in real life. As Keith said, at least I can exit out of that reality.

Next, we went to an all-male homeless shelter. A few others and I talked to Mark. Mark had a very interesting story. He was on top of the world. He had money, a big home and everything he wanted, but he spent his money foolishly. After the stock market crash in 2008, he lost everything. Although he lost everything, he still held onto his faith. Mark believed that God had humbled him and that he needed it. Mark shared with us a few Bible quotes and preached to us about the faith. Mark taught me so much in the one hour I spent with him. I will never forget Mark, his story and everything he told me.

We went back to the Darst Center and talked again about the people we met. Again, we didn’t get to bed until one, which was hard because we had to be ready by seven the next morning.

We all met in the living room at seven the next morning. We talked about what was planned for the day. We had breakfast, and then we were all assigned chores. I cleaned the living room, while other people had jobs like checking the bedrooms or cleaning the bathrooms.

After our chores, we packed up and went to mass. We went to mass at Saint Benedict the African Church. The church was absolutely breathtaking. It had a big baptismal font and plants all around it. Mass started, and we were welcomed into their church. I have never felt more welcomed before. I truly felt like I belonged there. The people and the mass were upbeat and happy. At the Our Father, everyone held hands, even reaching across the aisles to hold hands with the other row.

After the Our Father was the sign of peace. The sign of peace for us is about 20 to 30 seconds, and it’s just with the people around you. It was very different here. It took about three minutes, and it was time to say hi to family, friends and others. We were all greeted by the parishioners, most saying welcome and giving us a big smile. Once mass was done, we walked around and then left the beautiful church.

To say I’m glad I took this service trip is an understatement. Within a few days, I had gone from really nervous to really content. I made new friendships with the people I met and rekindled old ones I thought I had lost with my classmates. This trip brought me closer to my classmates and God. I truly realize how blessed I am, and I plan on thanking God a lot more for all He has given me.

Freshmen, when you are given the chance to take this trip, take it. It will be a life- changing event that you will never forget.