Students and chaperones from St. John Neumann Catholic High School deliver food as part a service retreat at Guadalupe Social Services of Catholic Charities in Immokalee on June 5. (PHOTO BY BOB REDDY)

Retreat opens eyes of teens

Immokalee  |  When a group of nearly 30 St. John Neumann Catholic High School students talk about what they did for their summer vacation, they will each have compelling stories to tell.

For one week, they opted to start their summer by being part of the school’s annual Immokalee Service Week. This is the fifth year that a group from St. John Neumann in Naples has journeyed to Immokalee for a service retreat.

The service trip was organized by Salesian Sisters of St. John Bosco, Sisters Katie Flanagan and Christina Chong, along with several staff members on the faculty of at St. John Neumann. The goal was for each student to gain a renewed sense of Christian service.

One student reflected on the week as a revelation for her that even doing the smallest act of kindness can bring joy to others. “I could have been home doing nothing, but I’m glad I came and am able to help, even in a little way.”

Immokalee is about a 40-minute drive from St. John Neumann, but the difference between Naples and Immokalee can be shocking for those who have never been there. The Collier County city is home to many farms and food processing facilities and is one of the poorest communities in Florida.

During their retreat, students worked and assisted in a variety of tasks at several locations including Guadalupe Social Services of Catholic Charities, Habitat for Humanity, the Salvation Army and elsewhere.

They served hot meals, bagged and later delivered groceries to local neighborhoods, sorted food, sorted clothes, painted house trimming, tutored children and much more.

The activities were a mix of manual labor and interaction with local residents. The thanks received from those they encountered were what filled their hearts with joy. The overall experience was a true encounter of seeing Christ in others, one student explained.

Each day included daily prayer, time for reflection, and Mass celebrated in their school Chapel. They spent their nights at the convent of the Salesian Sisters of St. John Bosco.