Students Spend Winter Break Working in Hartford

 
   

Just as the novelty of being at home for winter break began to wane, 14 Trinity students returned early to campus to spend their days painting houses in Hartford’s North End, living off a food-stamps budget, shopping at Mega Foods, and cooking and living in a communal atmosphere. At first glance it may not seem like an enticing deal—giving up the comfort of home-cooked meals for a one-dollar lunch budget—but participants in the Chapel Council’s Jelloh (January Experience of Living and Learning and Outreach in Hartford) program found the week of service to be both rewarding and humbling.

Rising early for morning prayer and Bible study, led by College Chaplain Dan Heischman, the group then headed off to the work sites, priming walls at Habitat for Humanity houses and painting rooms at the Catholic Worker, a non-profit organization “working and praying for an end to violence and poverty” in the North End. Although the work was physically strenuous at times, particularly with the low amount of calorie intake from their shoe-string food allowance, Jim Bixby ’08, president of the Council, recalls that the “least fun job” was hauling the mud out of the basement of the Habitat house. Yet feeling part of a greater picture and mission, Bixby and the others saw these homes not just as roofs over heads, but that “homeownership reduces poverty rates and increases the likelihood that kids will stay in school.”

In the evening, a group of students would travel down to Mega Foods, the local international market, to gather the groceries for the group.  The neighborhood grocer, explains Bixby, “was an event in itself. There were things like chicken beaks and a common tag was ‘miscellaneous meat.’” But it was an important component of the Jelloh program to get a taste of the neighborhoods in which they were working and to face head on the harsh economic realities. “It was humbling at first. It’s almost unimaginable to think that families live off it [the food stamps allowance]. We had to be creative with our meals, but we made it stretch,” explains Bixby of the dinners that ranged from pasta to tacos to stir fry.

 
   

Living together, although men and women were split into separate campus houses, the group was able to build a community and take time during evening discussions to explore issues of faith and justice, explains Jim Schroeder, adviser to campus Christian organizations and mentor on the Jelloh program. “We were able to build a strong community among ourselves with our discussions,” he says. “Our mission was not just to serve but to learn.”

Sifting through evaluation forms at the end of the week, Bixby was amazed at the overwhelmingly positive responses. “The program was so fantastic,” he says, “now we need to keep the ball rolling.” With a program already in the works for Trinity Days, these students will once again trade in their all-you-can-eat Mather buffet to lend their time and efforts to a seemingly distant world that’s just right down the road.

Story contributed by Carlin Carr

 

 

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