Young women to serve communities in need this summer
By Katherine Long
“For just as a body without a spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.” — James 2:26
As part of Catholic campus communities around the diocese, young people live out their faith during the school year through service to others, volunteering their time while simultaneously juggling the responsibilities of college coursework, jobs and other extracurricular activities. This summer, however, two young women will have the opportunity to devote themselves fully to service as they volunteer with sister organizations Nazareth Farm and Bethlehem Farm in rural West Virginia.
While in high school, SUNY Oswego junior Katie Ward participated in and enjoyed service trips with her home parish of Most Holy Rosary in Syracuse. Even so, she wasn’t immediately sold when Catholic campus minister Mike Huynh told her about a winter break service trip to Nazareth Farm, a Catholic community in Salem, W.Va. Founded by a priest of the Syracuse diocese, Nazareth Farm provides home repair service to those with fixed incomes.
“I didn’t really want to go,” the peer minister remembered. “But I talked it over with a few people and they helped me realize it would be a good experience.”
Ward, along with a handful of others from the college’s Hall Newman Center, traveled to West Virginia in January of 2012. There, they spent a week fixing floors and ceilings for local families. A year later, Ward was back at the farm for another week of service — and determined to return again.
“I fell in love,” she said. “I didn’t want that second trip to end and I knew I would come back.”
Ward will return to Nazareth Farm at the end of the month, when she will begin five weeks of service as a sojourner. Sojourners live and serve on the farm temporarily during the summer.
This is the third year Nazareth Farm has welcomed sojourners, and already they’ve become an integral part of life at the farm, said staff member Susan Newman. Over the course of the summer, she said, a total of 11 sojourners will work at the farm, helping to lead retreats with short-term volunteers, working at job sites and serving as an “extra set of hands and eyes.”
In addition to lending a hand to individuals in the community, Ward is looking forward to focusing on the Farm’s four cornerstones: prayer, simplicity, community and service.
“Nazareth Farm is different from other experiences because it’s based on simplicity,” she said. Cell phones don’t work, you aren’t constantly watching a clock and you can simply get to know your fellow volunteers and the people you’re serving, Ward explained. “It allows you to build up your faith and your relationship with God,” she said.
“My parents always taught me to give back, to help people who need help,” she continued. “There is nothing like the look on a family’s face when their roof finally stops leaking.”
Elisabeth Muehlemann, a junior and a member of the Newman community at Colgate University in Hamilton, has also made multiple trips to Nazareth Farm. In fact, she initially applied to Colgate because she knew the school offered service trips there.
“When I went [to Nazareth Farm] in high school, it was outside my comfort zone because I didn’t know the kids in my youth group well,” she said. “I had also never been in an environment that was both ‘Catholicism’ and ‘service.’ It was everything I loved about the Catholic faith in one place.”
She has since made two return trips to the farm and become the interfaith liaison to Colgate’s Center for Outreach, Volunteerism and Education.
In just a few days, Muehlemann will help lead an interfaith service trip to Gottingen, Germany, where she and other students will visit synagogues rebuilt by an alliance of Jews and Christians following World War II and meet with representatives from the Jewish, Christian and Muslim communities in the city. The students will also help distribute food at a food bank.
When she gets back, Muehlemann will head to Bethlehem Farm in Talcott, W.Va., where she will spend two weeks as a summer servant. Bethlehem Farm, Nazareth Farm’s sister organization, also provides home repair services. Bethlehem Farm is also home to about 50 laying hens, a quarter acre garden and a quarter acre orchard.
“Summer servants are an integral part of our ability to maintain the level of produce we’re able to harvest,” said caretaker and hiring coordinator Moira Reilly. Summer servants will also be helping with the construction of a new caretaker residence on the property, where those who live and work at the farm full time will reside.
It will be Muehlemann’s longest service experience and her first trip to Bethlehem Farm — and she can’t wait.
“I’ve been very lucky in my life,” Muehlemann said. “There’s so much injustice in the world. My ability to help means that I’m meant to do it.”