By Annelie Rugg P ’20
“Mom, this is fun! When can we do this again?”
Hearing these words from my 8th grade daughter, Hanna, made me smile for many reasons. We were not at a theme park. We were not on a trip. We were volunteering three hours on a hot Sunday, August afternoon as a part of Hanna’s Chaminade College Preparatory apostolic works experience.
Our time was spent at Hopemill’s Assembly Day. Located in Encino, Hopemill’s mission is “to help those who find themselves homeless.” But it is so much more than just another well-meaning organization.
Funded entirely by private donations, Hopemill’s primary service is assembling backpacks (hence, Assembly Day) with essential items, and distributing them to the homeless, as well as to people living in missions and shelters throughout Southern California. On this particular Sunday, our volunteer contingent of about 25 people — including children as young as 6 and adults as old as 70 — carefully and efficiently assembled 400 brand new backpacks earmarked for delivery to a series of shelters near Bakersfield.
What makes Hopemill different, and why will we be back? For Hanna, it is energizing to join side-by-side with adults and other kids, building something that someone really needs. Seeing how a little bit of thought and organization can make volunteer work fun and meaningful. For Hanna and I, it is the detailed thought and care that goes into every aspect of the work that results in assembled backpacks. For starters, all the supplies are brand new: from clothing to food to personal items. We were not just jamming one of each item into the packs and zipping them shut. We were respectfully asked to “pack each bag as though it is a gift,” to convey to the recipient that they are a valued person.
So what did we do? Our cohort divided across about eight different stations, where volunteers carefully packed a pre-arranged selection of items comprising the general hygiene packet, the toothbrush packet, the shampoo packet, the food packet and, in my case, the stationery packet. This latter packet stood out for me: it consisted of a stamped envelope, a notepad or a few sheets of paper, a pen, and a safety whistle. It was included so those struggling to survive could write to family or friends and let them know how they are doing. Thoughtful. It made me see that these people are not just going through the motions. They have put themselves in the shoes of a needy person and imagined what that person could use that no one else thinks of.
I sometimes wonder whether Hanna has any sense of the impact her apostolic works have, or whether it even matters to her. Being part of Assembly Day at Hopemill re-awakened a confidence in the power of our works that we can make a positive contribution, and that there are real people out there who need our help. Hopemill is right in our neighborhood, helping people in our area, doing the simplest of things, and doing it with thought and care. Truly, an apostolic works experience to remember.
The Apostolic Works Learning Program allows Chaminade to educate students in grades 6-12 for service, justice, and peace by helping them engage in a variety of service opportunities. It is not just a Christian Service program, but one that forms Chaminade students into the school’s Catholic-Marianist tradition and challenges them to be agents of change.