Boston College Annual Report 2003

John and Margarete McNeice Student Formation Fund

.The house was so run-down that its porch had fallen off, forcing the residents to use the back door. A family of three lived there: an elderly mother and her two grown sons, both mentally challenged.

Despite the conditions, what impressed Alok Pinto ’03 was the hospitality and spiritual wealth of the poor in this West Virginia community. “I think the most shocking part is their mental and spiritual condition,” he says. “You would expect people living in such poverty to be angry or depressed. But there was a real sense of community, a sense of ‘We’ll get through this together.’”

For four years, Pinto has participated in Boston College’s Appalachia Volunteers program, which sends more than 500 students on spring break to nearly 30 locations where they help some of America’s poorest citizens. Regardless of how well they bang a hammer or steady a drill, the students fix houses, build porches, pave driveways, and otherwise share their nascent handyman skills.

Pinto’s porch-building was coordinated through Nazareth Farm, an organization that acts as a construction company for the poor, charging people only what they can afford. He spent two of his four Appalachia Volunteers trips at Nazareth Farm, but last year he worked at a different site: the Alderson Hospitality House in Alderson, West Virginia, which offers free lodging to anyone visiting inmates at the nearby Alderson Federal Prison Camp for women.

While some students were sunbathing in Florida and Cancun, Pinto and 11 other Boston College students were lugging 40 tons of gravel up the Alderson House’s muddy driveway. When a gravel truck couldn’t make it up the slippery hill, students shoveled the stones into wheelbarrows and pickup trucks, then spread the gravel along the once unnavigable dirt path.

Programs like Appalachia Volunteers are funded through gifts to the University, including $5 million from John A. McNeice, Jr. ’54, H’97, and Margarete McNeice, who earmarked their donation for volunteer programs and student retreats. The John and Margarete McNeice Student Formation Fund ensures Boston College’s leading role among Catholic colleges and universities in the area of student formation, and reinforces its mission to form men and women for service to others. The funds support spiritual reflection through programs such as Kairos, a Christian retreat that helps students understand where God fits into their lives, and a wide variety of volunteer efforts, which accommodate about 3,000 students each year.

.“We wanted to ensure that student retreat and volunteer programs at BC continue to shape the next generation of leaders, because service is the very essence of a Jesuit education. It is this service dimension—of being a man or woman for others—that is one of the key distinctions of a BC education and offers the best hope for changing our world.”
JOHN MC NEICE, JR. ’54, H’97

Besides Appalachia Volunteers, service programs include 4Boston, which places students in Boston social service agencies; the Bethany Experience, in which students learn about homelessness by working at a shelter in Lawrence, Mass-achusetts; Campus School Volunteers, which puts Boston College students in classrooms with physically and mentally challenged students; and International Immersion Programs, which sends students to work with the needy in a variety of countries, primarily in Latin America.

For many Boston College students, the volunteer experience lasts long after the formal program ends. Pinto, for one, has applied for a permanent position with Nazareth Farm after graduation. While his own background is well-to-do, he understands the poverty of his native India, which he left when he was three.

Although the poor of Appalachia did not particularly shock him, they did enlighten him. “They appreciate their lives so much despite what we living in Boston would consider abject, unacceptable poverty,” Pinto says. “They have a spiritual richness and a communal richness that rivals anything that we have as privileged people.”

Photo at top of page: Alok Pinto ‘03 (center) at the Pine Street Inn.

Inset photo: John A. McNeice, Jr.

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