Day 6 (Friday): Thank You, Thank You, Thank You

Dear Family, Friends, and LaSalle Community,

It is now 9:30 am on Friday and all of us here at St. Peter Claver are working hard to clean, pack, wrap up, and prepare for departure. It is with a shade of sadness that I write this final message of our trip to you, but it is with great joy that we will all remember this week. But, as always, in any great endeavor such as this, there are countless people who work relentlessly to pull it off, and must be thanked for their hard work, dedication, and sacrifice.

We especially want to thank:

  • Our parents for their love and support of our participation in the Urban Immersion.
  • All those who followed along with the blog and shared in our special week.
  • Mr. Turner and Mrs. Antosh for their help with transportation.
  • Father Tony Janton, Mr. Marchese, & Mrs. Maher for their visit to us this week and their constant attention to and support of our efforts.
  • Robbie Francis and Ailleen Haggerty for sharing their expertise and experience with those that we met this week.
  • Mr. Parisi and Mrs. Haggerty for working side by side with us on homeless outreach and at Project H.O.M.E..
  • Marion D’Ambrosio (AKA “Tootsie”) of Tootsie’s Salad Express in the Reading Terminal Market for providing a great deal of support in the form of dinner not once, but twice this week. We know that it is no easy task content with the 37 of us at a dinner table.
  • Maureen and Tom Mahon for their “behind the scenes” support of our work.
  • The site coordinators: Mark Bielecki (Project H.O.M.E.), Gerard Huot (Saint John’s Hospice), Kathy Pfeffer (Office of Youth and Young Adults), Ailleen Haggerty (Jane Addams), Fr. Tom Higgins (Holy Innocents), Fr. Kevin Murray and Robbie Francis (Blessed Sarnelli Community), Sr. Dolores (Visitation Grade School), Sr. Leslie (Saint Francis Inn), Nicki Olivier (Project H.O.M.E.) who welcomed us to their sites and for their Christ-like examples.
  • Father Thorne for his hospitality and generosity in allowing us to stay here at the Saint Peter Claver Center. It has become like a home away from home for us this past week.
  • And most especially, the people that we met along the way who blessed our life in ways that cannot be described.

As we prepare to leave the Saint Peter Claver Center, we are reminded of the many blessings in our lives.  We are extremely grateful.

Live Jesus in Our Hearts… Forever!

Peace and Love,

The 2010 Philadelphia Urban Immersion Crew:

Mike Angelone, Sean Burke, Ryan Cardinal, Joseph Cawley, Nicholas Daly, Michael DeCandido, Jon Derewicz, Daniel DiMascia, Colin Dingley, Timothy Fickenscher, Jack Fillenwarth, Matthew Franzen, David Greene, Emmett Gross, Joseph Guiliano, Conor Janda, William Joyce, Colin Kelley, Shane Kensil, Alexander Kochanasz, Kevin McBride, Thomas Mullin, Dillon Pierce, Michael Piscopo, Michael Pizzo, J.J. Plamondon, Nicholas Seigel, Brandon Sinnott, Dillon Smith, Ryan Sosnader, Christopher Szekely, Michael Thomas, William Toner, Matthew Volpe, &​ Ryan Ward

Posted by L. Clark on Friday June 11, 2010 at 10:48PM

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Day 5 (Thursday): Connecting the Pieces

Dear Family, Friends, and La Salle Community,

Thursday, our final day of service for this trip, was like all the others in the work we did. But it was also a saddening day, full of goodbyes and parting sentiments, but at the same time full of hope and ambition to return soon.

Today, the same group returned to interact and mingle with the men of Project H.O.M.E. at St. Columba’s. As the week went on, it was clear to see the strong relationships and bonds that we students have built with the men in the home. Although all the men in the home were very pleased and appreciative to have us back again, there was one man that seemed to stick out both days. This intelligent, joyful man was George. George was an older man in the home, and has been there for a little while. Although George has next to nothing, he realizes that he is blessed with a roof over his head, and his daily meals. His joyfulness and happiness quickly impacted the lives of many of the volunteers. George managed to have the guys kids around him to consistently maintain a smile on their faces, and for that we are all very grateful. Because of George, we were able to see the true meaning of love and compassion. We were truly touched by George’s parting words: “Thank you. I love you guys.”

While the other group was at St Columba’s, a group of ten traveled to St John’s Hospice to help serve food to the homeless. The day started off with the men mingling with the staff members and others while they enjoyed lunch made by the staff. Then after lunch, the doors to the outside world opened and men from all over the streets came into to St John’s to enjoy a meal, something some of them rarely have. The men from LaSalle helped by handing out trays, food and drinks to the 250+ men who arrived. Along with them, the other men waited the tables helping take up the trays while the last two men worked in the mail room. By the end of the day, many of the men had made a strong connection with many of the guests and gained a great deal from the experience, both in new friends, and learned lessons.

Another group of students returned to Sarnelli House to continue work on restoring and renovating the building.  We were separated into several different groups, each working on a different task.  One group went into a room on the second floor and scraped paint off of the ceiling.  After a long and grueling process, lasting several days, the ceiling was ready to be spackled and repainted.  A different group went to the third floor and helped put dry wall onto the ceiling.  With the help of Denrick, a local carpenter, the ceiling was completed and some of the walls were covered when the workday was over.  Finally, the last group soaked the walls on the second floor with a solution to help loosen the glue.  After four days of work at the Sarnelli House, it was a new place. Though it has a great deal more work to be completed, we hope to be able to return to Sarnelli house during the coming school year in order to help directly serve the people of the community, and to continue to for many years to come.

Finally, yet another group traveled to Visitation BVM School to help in the classrooms and administrations offices. The day began with a great deal of excitement- today was “Fun Day” for the pre-K and Kindergarten classes. The morning was full of fun games outside, followed by swings, piggy back rides, basketball, monkey bars and more and the playground. After a special pizza lunch, we joined various classrooms in the school to engage in activities with the young students such as story time, video watching, coloring, and later helping one teacher by hauling some boxes of classroom materials. We later assisted the school principal with some less-than-fascinating paper filing. Overall, the day was full of not only work, but a great deal of fun. The children at Visitation were overjoyed to have us there and quickly and eagerly engaged the “big kids” and were sad to see us leave, just as we were sad to leave them. The Visitation BVM School is an incredible place which we hope to return to soon.

Our afternoon an evening was, as usual, filled with excitement. The highlight of our activity today was a trip to Citizens Bank to Park to see the great Fightin’ Phils face off against the Florida Marlins. We were allowed to explore South Street, a block down from Saint Peter Claver, with much of our afternoon, and enjoy the many unique (and delicious) things it has to offer. After taking SEPTA to the sports complex, we entered the stadium itching for a good game. Though our seats were in what some might call the “nose-bleeds”, we had an excellent time at the game. As you probably know, the Phillies played a hard game but unfortunately lost 2-0. Despite the loss, our time at the stadium was very much worth it. One highpoint of the game was when one student, Dillon Smith’s, name appeared on the Jumbo-tron at the start of the fourth inning to celebrate his birthday! All in all, the game was fun, the food great (but overpriced) and the Phillies very entertaining (as always).

Our night concluded with a Gospel reflection by Mike DeCandido based on the parable of the Lost Sheep.  After his reflection, a heartfelt and lively reflection that took us past midnight.  It was clear that we understood the meaning and purpose of this trip: serving those in need.  However, we never would of realized that we would of perhaps received more than we gave.

As always, we thank you all for taking the time to support us and take an interest in the work we have been doing throughout this week. As it draws to a close, we will all certainly miss this week and its activities, but at the same time, we are eager to return to our own beds!

Until next time,

The Philadelphia Urban Immersion Crew

(Matt Volpe—editor)

Posted by on Friday June 11, 2010 at 10:05PM

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Day 4 (Wednesday): Service Has No Rivals

Another Great Day!

Check us out inTom Mahon’s “High and Inside” column in today’s (Thursday) Philadelphia Daily News sports section.

Here is the link to the article:

Posted by on Wednesday June 9, 2010 at 11:36PM

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Day 3 – Making Connections

Dear Family, Friends, and the La Salle Community,

Our third day on our immersion began with another early wakeup at 7:00. After eating breakfast, preparing lunches, and getting ready for the day, Mr. Dominick’s group going to Holy Innocents were the first out the door for their daily commute on the Frankford L to Erie Torresdale.  Our day consisted of finishing the painting of the other side of the house, landscaping around and preparing the church for the 8th grade graduation and final Baccalaureate mass for Northeast Catholic.  One of the highlights of the day again was hanging out at recess with the kids. We spent the recess playing tag, duck-duck-goose, or racing those fast, energetic kids. It was remarkable to see the handicapped kids and to see some of their amazing talents.  These kids could recite last week’s edition of 60- minutes, give us play by play of the Phillies or sing any song if you give them the beat.  While most of us hung out with the guys, Jack seemed to be the main attraction for all the girls from St. Lucy’s.  It was an incredible couple of days.

A little bit further down in the heart of Kensington, another group went to Sarnelli House, a mission that serves the poor and abandoned.  Several members of the La Salle family serve on the board of Sarnelli House.  Suited up in work gloves and safety goggles, they spent most of the day helping out with some construction currently going on to prepare for the opening of the new location this fall. The guys completed tasks such as carrying boards of dry wall up to the top floor; they plastered holes in the walls and eventually ended up working together to scrape paint off a ceiling. Every one ended up getting up on ladders and scraping the paint off the top ceiling of one of the rooms. They ended up meeting a number of interesting people and learning a great deal about both construction and themselves.

Also in Kensington, 3 guys travelled to St Francis Inn which is a soup kitchen, where they were set to several different tasks working in the kitchen preparing foods with Bro. Frank.  Once prepared, they were sent outside to talk and serve hot tea to the homeless people that arrived to the kitchen for a hot meal and hospitality. One of the guys took over the kitchen alone, making 5 casseroles and making a large serving of carrots and noodles. After the kitchen closed for breakfast and the tea was done serving, they reunited to complete their last task, which was to sort rolls, assorted breads, bagels, and buns into bags which would be distributed to the homeless. The students met a lot of interesting people, learned a few useful tips from the Bro., and had another great day of service.

Today at the Jane Addams Place, we sorted clothing donations in the shelter’s donation room. After this, we joined in the organization’s community meeting. We discussed our feelings of the day, our goals, and to whom we would go for help. We also conversed about our future plans and the residents’ goals. After the meeting, we finished painting the two bedrooms we began yesterday, and consumed the rest of our afternoon. We received a great deal of gratitude as we left and were sorry that we had to leave.

The final group spent a second day working at St. Columba’s Shelter for Project H.O.M.E. We engaged in many different tasks, which included cleaning out an old refrigerator, helping a resident clean his apartment, and preparing a delicious pizza lunch. We also played a riveting game of Monopoly (which, sadly, never reached a conclusion). We took a walk with the residents; Carlos, Jimmy Mac, and George through the neighborhood and enjoyed a donut snack along the way. We were glad to meet and connect with the people we did and were sad to say goodbye to our new friends as we left them.

For the outreach portion of the day, we traveled to Summerset, Kensington. We made sandwiches and handed out socks and drinks to people on the streets with the help of Father Kevin, the director of Sarnelli House, and his dog Nelly. As we arrived to our first site we were quickly surprised by the openness of the men and women that we met on the streets.  We soon realized that the people that live on the streets are no different from people like us and need acknowledgement, a chance to share their story, and the basic dignity we all seek. We met various people like Lonnie and Mike, who have been on the streets for over twenty years. Lonnie’s speech made us realize how appreciative we should be towards what we are blessed with on a daily basis. Mike entertained us with his good sense of humor and his fake eye. Everyone we encountered tonight was very supportive towards our group and talked to us about taking the “right path of life.” The men and women we met tonight were truly an influence on our lives as they told us that they would pray for us in the midst of their misfortune.

It has been an exciting few days and we look forward to tomorrow and the opportunity to engage with more members of the community.


Joe Guiliano, Ryan Ward, Alex Kochanasz, Nick Seigel, Bill Toner, Matt Volpe (editor in chief)…..and the rest of the The Philadelphia Urban Immersion Crew

Posted by on Wednesday June 9, 2010 at 08:21AM

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Monday, June 7, 2010–Getting Down to Business (Day 2)

Dear Friends, Family, and the La Salle Community,

Day two started with an early wakeup call at 7 and the first group left with Mr. Dominick for Holy Innocents. Holy Innocents is a parish and elementary school in Juniata, which also houses St. Lucy’s school for the blind or deaf. Kids weeded the rectory and convent, painted, cleaned inside the school, and most importantly interacted with the kids at recess. Several of our students were touched by the liveliness and cheerfulness of the disabled students. Most kids were incredibly relatable and easy to talk with. Multiple students were touched by a kid named Nick, who is blind as well as diagnosed with a brain tumor. He was open with our students and seemed unbelievably candid for a kid who was going in for chemo tomorrow. Father Higgins is the pastor of the parish and told our students were immensely helpful and he was especially thankful for re-painting a wall that was previously covered with graffiti.

Other students left with Mr. Clark for the Project Home headquarters on Fairmount Ave. They met with the volunteer coordinator who talked about the evolution of homelessness. There was also a movie about Project home and their different works. One man in the movie had a La Salle basketball shirt, so things came full circle for the students. Then they went to St. Columba, a homeless shelter for the mentally challenged. Mr. Bielecki’s brother Mark, a La Salle grad who works at St. Columba, gave the kids a tour before they split up to work. Some guys worked in the kitchen; while other kids interacted with the residents. Kevin McBride played guitar for them, while others played checkers or just talked. The rest of the day was spent interacting with the residents as a way to see how these people were just like us, but they have experienced some tough breaks. The residents really appreciated the company and you could tell they enjoyed being listened to.

A third group of students, along with Mrs. Agnew went to the headquarters for Operation Santa Claus. They sorted the elf costumes that either needed to be repaired, or folded and put away for next year. Then the group went to St. John Hospice, a shelter for homeless men and soup kitchen for people on the streets. Some guys set the trays and gave them to the visitors, while others talked to them while they ate and then cleared the tables. A couple guys sorted mail that comes for the people who register this address to get public aid. Today they got over 300 men for lunch, which consisted of Italian sausage, rice, and a piece of cake. One man stood out most when he said he was “blessed by God” and then asked JJ Plamondon if he was too. It was incredible to see this homeless man in a soup kitchen who was able to appreciate the simplicity of a meal.

The last group led by Mr. Brett went to the Jane Addams Place, a housing system for women with kids but no home. Students cleaned three floors (including stairwells and walls) and six bedrooms. They also painted two rooms. One of the highlights of the day was sharing the cafeteria and interacting with the families that live in the home.  The students were touched by their conversations with the moms and their children. A simple treat of a brownie brought joy to the face of Khalif and to his mother, as well.  The students were struck by the fact of how happy and outgoing he and the rest of the children were in spite of their day to day surroundings.

The afternoon was filled with unique experiences. It began with a visit to St. Joseph’s Prep thanks to their generosity in allowing us to use their showers. It was good to be able to put a rivalry behind us and find common ground through service. We were unhindered by many a strange glance as the 35 of us boarded the Broad Street Line in full shower garb on our way to 17th and Girard. Afterwards, we were joined by Father Tony Janton for dinner at the Reading Terminal Market, courtesy of Tootsie’s Salad Express. Their delicious food and generosity were both incredible. We were treated to Rita’s Water Ice by Father Janton and enjoyed the sights of Love Park and City Hall as we traveled the streets. Yet again La Salle students continued their artistic streak by appearing in an impromptu music video shoot in Love Park led by the soon to be famous artist, Zaire.

Finally, half the La Salle students, joined by Mr. Parisi, embarked on a Homeless Outreach Program tonight.  The students and teachers provided baked ziti, meatballs, sausage, salad, iced tea, and cookies a number of homeless persons on the streets throughout Philadelphia.  The experience was a new one for all of the students who took part and made a lasting impression on each and every one of them.  Throughout the evening, we asked these people for their own prayer intentions. Bobby asked for us to pray for his employment, Cyrell for a family issue, Allen for all of the people around him in need, and Clayton for help with an addiction. We ask you to keep these and all other people similar situations in your prayers as we will and we look forward to continuing this mission tomorrow night with a another group of students.

Thank you for following along with us on our trip!


JJ Plamondon, Mike DeCandido, Matt Volpe, Bill Toner, Kevin McBride, and the Philadelphia Urban Immersion Crew

Posted by on Tuesday June 8, 2010 at 09:14PM

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Greetings from the Urban Immersion (Day 1)

Sunday, June 6, 2010– Greetings from the Urban Immersion (Day 1)

Dear Family, Friends, and LaSalle Community,

Our first day of the Urban Immersion trip was exciting and eventful. We began today with a welcoming and a mass led by Fathers Murray and Thorne at the St. Peter Claver Center at 12th and Lombard Streets in Center City. The Saint Peter Claver Center was the first parish in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia to be dedicated for the ministry to Black Catholics, beginning in 1892. In this church, Saint Katherine Drexel worshipped and the first black priest in America celebrated Mass. After exploring our area a bit and enjoying lunch (hoagies and pizza from Sarcones!), we visited the National Liberty Museum. Our visit and tour helped set a tone for the rest of our trip. We explored a number of galleries and exhibits depicting the work of many humanitarians, peace seekers, and everyday heroes throughout our world. The museum followed a theme of liberty being like glass. It is a beautiful, diverse, and unique medium of art created by bringing together millions of individual grains of sand which, by themselves seem like nothing. But liberty and glass are both fragile and can only be upheld when everyone works together to actively protect them. The walks to and from the museum gave us a chance to view some of the great sights of Philadelphia and enjoy its atmosphere.

After our trip the museum, we were visited by a guest speaker from The Jane Adams House. Aileen Haggerty (daughter to our own, Mrs. Carol Haggerty) has worked at The Jane Adams house helping homeless families for two and a half years. She discussed the causes, effects, and gripping realities of poverty in Philadelphia. Did you know that, in the city of Philadelphia, an average working mother of two children must earn approximately $54,000 a year to maintain a basic lifestyle for her family, excluding entertainment, luxuries, or leisure? Some of us will visit The Jane Adams House tomorrow to help the 29 homeless families currently in residence there.

Following Miss Haggerty’s discussion and a delicious dinner, some students went with Mr. Clark and Mr. Brett to The Piazza to watch the Flyer’s game (For some, it was their first trip on a SEPTA subway train!).  Sadly, as many of you know, the game did not go as well as the rest of our day. On the way, however, a number of students posed for a picture that may soon appear on an album cover of an up and coming band, Love Language. A lucky few students who did not go to watch the game took an exciting journey with Mr. Dominick to SuperFresh to buy provisions for tomorrow.

Our evening came to a close with a prayer service in Saint Peter Claver Church.  The insightful reflection was a fitting conclusion for our day and left us eager to embark on our various projects tomorrow and later in the week. We hope that this week will not only help a number of less privileged individuals, but help us gain an insight into a part of our city we do not often see and the reality of struggle in everyday life. We are told that to whom much is given, much is expected, and we hope to remain true to this. We look forward to sharing the rest our trip with you and we are keeping you all in our prayers.

Bill Toner, Matt Volpe, Nick Seigel, Dillon Smith, and the rest of the Phila

Posted by on Tuesday June 8, 2010 at 09:10PM

delphia Urban Immersion Crew.