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Lynch School Service Trip Carries Something Extra

03/12/15
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Lynch School of Education students during last week’s service trip to the Mustard Seed Communities in Jamaica. (Photo courtesy Alec Peck)

By Kathleen Sullivan | Chronicle Staff

Published: Mar. 12, 2015

When Lynch School of Education Associate Professor Alec Peck and Boston College students made their annual service trip to Jamaica last week, they brought with them a monetary gift from a BC alumnus and parent who wanted the group to make an even bigger impact on those they ministered to on their visit.

Every spring break for the past 15 years, Peck and 18-20 BC undergraduates have traveled to Jamaica on a volunteer service mission to the Mustard Seed Communities. Founded by BC alumnus Father Gregory Ramkissoon, Mustard Seed Communities is a charitable organization that provides housing, care and education to more than 500 abandoned children. Most of the residents have physical or mental disabilities, while others have HIV or are teen mothers.

The Mustard Seed Communities originated in Jamaica in 1978 and has expanded to Nicaragua, Zimbabwe and the Dominican Republic. The message of the Mustard Seed Communities is a simple, but powerful one: “No child will be abandoned twice.”
During their weeklong stay at Mustard Seed-Jamaica, Peck and the students provide about five hours of direct care a day for the residents, helping with dressing, feeding and transportation. For the bulk of the day, the volunteers take on a work project.

“We are links in a chain,” explained Peck. “One year we might build a foundation for a home. The next year, when we return, the house has been finished by other mission trip volunteers, but we are needed to install windows in a new building.

“The organization absolutely depends on the volunteers,” he added.

This year, the BC group arrived in Jamaica with a financial gift of $6,000 from alumnus Jay Sullivan ’84 and his wife Mary. Following his graduation from BC, Jay Sullivan taught in Jamaica for two years as part of BC’s International Volunteers Corps (now Jesuit International Volunteer Corps). In addition to his teaching duties, Sullivan got involved with Alpha Boys School in Kingston, an orphanage for hundreds of boys run by the Sisters of Mercy. He lived in the convent and worked with the youngsters at Alpha House. Now an executive in New York, Sullivan chronicled his time at Alpha House in the award-winning book Raising Gentle Men: Lives at the Orphanage Edge.

A parent of a BC alumnus and two current BC students, Sullivan asked the Mustard Seed volunteers to distribute the funds in Jamaica as they saw fit. “I saw this as a gift that would not only help, but also force students to grow. I knew this gift would trigger thoughtful, discerned discussion. Instead of merely reflecting on the problems they saw, these students would have the power to help. But it was limited. So it was a gift, but I thought of it as a challenge.”

The donation will go to purchase items deemed of critical importance to the communities: two 96-gallon water tanks and a pump, since the community is often without water; two industrial strength blenders to puree food for students with special needs; a high-capacity washing machine to clean school uniforms, and three ceiling fans for homes that had no cooling mechanisms.

Peck said this year’s student group was “really hard-working and dedicated. They took the responsibility [of directing the funding] very seriously.”

Peck – who will be turning over leadership of the trip next year to Assistant Director of Development Betsy Fountain – estimates about 250 BC students have been part of the LSOE Mustard Seed service trip since its inception; some past participants returned on their own to lend a hand. “There are so many worthwhile organizations all over the world that need donations and assistance, but when you visit a place and immerse yourself in it, it becomes personal. It becomes your charity.”

To learn more about the Mustard Seed Communities or make a donation, visit www.mustardseed.com.