Ursuline students live service, faith on W.Va. farm


During June, eight Ursuline Academy students and two high school administrators attended a mission trip at Bethlehem Farm in Alderson, West Virginia, through the academy’s service immersion program called “Beyond Our Borders,” started in 2013.

Through this program, students leave the comfort of home for a service-learning trip. Previous trips have been to Guyana, South America, and Belize, Central America.

While in West Virginia, the students, campus minister Beth Joubert and high school dean of students Sue Heidel, both Ursuline alums, learned the importance of living sustainably through daily actions, said students Haley Tingler and Taylor Sontag.

The four Gospel cornerstones for life on the farm included:

Service (a reflection by Camille Black): “All of our days at Bethlehem Farm were rooted in service. Our work consisted of going to local homeowners who needed help with the construction of their houses. Some of the tasks we completed were putting in drywall, sanding down ceilings and putting in windows. We also worked on Bethlehem Farm itself by cutting the grass, weeding the garden, picking berries and helping construct its newest project, the ‘San Damiano Center for Sustainability.’ Throughout the week, we learned how to genuinely serve others and to remove the focus from ourselves.”

Prayer (a reflection by  Olivia Elam): “Sometimes we got together as a group and discussed questions. At  other times, we would just sit in a big circle and discuss certain topics. It really brought us together as a community because we were able to experience God together. Also, before we went off to our service sites, we had parking-lot prayer, and we would all hold hands in a circle and pray for a safe day at our site.” 

Community (a reflection by Isabelle Giangrosso):  “When we arrived at the farm, we were welcomed with warm hugs and helped into the house. We quickly joined their way of life and lived as part of a Christian community, in which we were able to share our faith and love for service. While their community was already established, they were so willing to include anyone willing to live and serve with them. We truly learned how to live within a community full of love, and we hope we have brought it back in every way possible to our Ursuline community.” 

Simplicity (a reflection by Ally Veron): The students lived simply, following the lifestyle of those they served. “If we did not need something, we did not use it. Because we lived in community, we shared everything we could. We conserved electricity by turning off lights and even fasted from electricity one night. Water was conserved by taking really fast, five-minute showers or a 5-gallon bucket shower. Having left-over water from the 5-gallon buckets showed us how much water is wasted daily. Our trip to Bethlehem Farm showed us the importance of living simply. It taught us to become conscious of how much we are on our phones, how much water we use to shower and how much food we waste. Our goal as we came back from the farm was to reduce this excess and live more simply.” 

The students plan to incorporate sustainability at Ursuline, said student Riley Talbot.

“Of the many values we lived by while at Bethlehem Farm, the one we felt most compelled to bring back to our Ursuline community is sustainability,” Talbot said. “Earlier in the summer, we met with Mr. John (Joffe), the director of our dining hall, to discuss the waste we produce.

“When we returned from the farm with our new knowledge of sustainability, we created ‘The Scrapin’ Station.’

“At our stations, there are six bins total, and each bin collects specific items. We are separating food and liquid waste, trash and dishware. By separating these things, we are also able to help our school become more aware of the food waste we create, and find ways to help reduce it.

“Through these stations, we are also helping the dining hall staff, so they create less waste. Thanks to our experience at Bethlehem Farm, our lives are forever changed,” Talbot said. “We are all grateful for the dining hall staff and administration at Ursuline Academy for supporting us throughout this whole process and hope that all of our students and faculty are able to bring home the awareness created at Ursuline.”

Also contributing to this story was student Sophie Shields, who went on the trip.

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