Service at St. Augustine’s is lifechanging experience

Service+at+St.+Augustine%27s+is+lifechanging+experience

Matt Lanetti

My experience at Old Saint Augustine’s was extremely moving. It may sound cliché, but I feel deeply changed by the time I spent there. It was such an experience, specifically the preparing and serving of the meal. For the first part of the day, I had been with Mr. Burke sorting food for a local food bank. During that entire process, I didn’t have a chance to work with or even speak to a homeless person. It was no different than the countless other service projects we could have done, as I had no interaction with the homeless yet.  After we came back to St. Augustine’s, Mr. McGuire, a few other students, and I, began making the dinner. While I was making the pasta, I wondered what it would actually be like to meet and speak to a homeless person. I didn’t really know what to expect, and honestly I was a little scared. I thought it would feel out of place, difficult, and awkward.

When it came time to actually meet the homeless men, I was slow to interact with them. I wanted it to be over as soon as possible. This quickly changed. After getting bowls from Ms. Plows, I sat down with Nick Zarkoski and about 6 homeless men. Immediately Nick began talking to them, and I was surprised by his confidence. Nick talked to them about sports and school, and they were having a real conversation. What surprised me the most was just how similar these men were to people I know in my life. Somehow I imagined them as separate, as not part of our lives. I didn’t think that they would be enjoyable to talk to, and would have such incredibly similar experiences as us.

I began talking to the man to my right, Larry. After asking him about his life, Larry practically told me his entire life story. I quickly learned he was a veteran of the US Navy and worked as a welder in ship yards for most his life. Recently, over the summer, I became interested in metalwork and taught myself how to weld. Larry and I talked for a while about metalworking, and I didn’t even realize it, but I was actually enjoying the conversation. My family, from both my mom’s and dad’s sides has been involved in the military. My father was in the Air Force, my uncle the Army, my maternal grandfather was a Marine, and my paternal grandfather was in the Navy. After Larry told me of how he worked in the Navy ship yards in Virginia, I told him of my grandfather’s experience in the Navy. My grandfather happened to be stationed on a very specific, and somewhat famous, aircraft carrier for most of his career, USS Lake Champlain, which I knew was built in the same Virginia ship yards that Larry said he worked on. It turns out that Larry actually built the ship my grandfather was stationed on. I was beyond amazed. Here was this old homeless man, someone I wouldn’t think had anything in common with me, but I had more in common with him than any other person in the room! My expectations were so much different from reality.

I think Malvern provides this service trip to show us the real world. I was thinking about just how much the couple hours I spent with Larry changed me, and I think I know why now. The real world is not at all like we thought it was. At Malvern there is always someone, a teacher, another student, your parents, who will help you get back up and start again. I learned that the real world is not so forgiving. We call ourselves brothers, and we are. We help each other out whenever something goes wrong. Larry became homeless when he and his brother got into a fight over something Larry doesn’t even remember. His brother kicked him out of his house and sold all his belongings. We sometimes forget how good we have it at Malvern.

The act of sharing a meal holds special meaning in Christianity. There is an obvious “Breaking Bread” analogy between us sharing a meal with complete strangers, and Jesus sharing meals with complete strangers and sinners. One usually thinks of family first when the idea of sharing a meal comes to mind, especially right after Thanksgiving. But these men were not our family, and we thought we had nothing in common with them. This experience showed me, in the corniest possible way, that we are all part of the same family.

In the end I was actually sad to see Larry leave. I felt ashamed to have been scared to talk to them, but also very happy that I did. When they arrived, all I wanted to do was go back downstairs and have them leave. Now it was the opposite. I was disappointed that I didn’t get a chance to really talk to any other homeless men. I think that each of our experiences with this trip is different for everyone else’s. We all talked to different people and worked at different places. After the homeless men left, we all went back downstairs. That night I felt more like a brother to my classmates than ever before. I can’t explain it, but I know for sure that the feeling was mutual for every single one of