September 13, 2023
Country Roads Take AHA Volunteers to West Virginia
Country roads lead to Nazareth Farm, a Catholic community in West Virginia that addresses substandard housing by providing home repairs (source: www.nazarethfarm.org). This August, a team from the Academy of the Holy Angels participated in this service-retreat for the first time since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Together with volunteers from other school and church groups, Angels used their energy and muscle to build a porch, tackle roofing and siding projects, work on the farm, and paint a historic church that will soon be a community center.
Angel volunteers included Alexa Diaz of Fair Lawn, Mia Diaz of North Bergen, Be’Tania Kiamue of Westwood, Miranda Paquet of Weehawken, and Gabriella Ragguci of Harrington Park. AHA Campus Ministry Director emeritus Kathleen Sylvester and AHA Campus Minister Maryanne Miloscia were chaperones and volunteers. Both women agree that their students embraced Nazareth Farm’s four cornerstones of community, simplicity, prayer, and service.
“I love this trip because the participants have the opportunity to actually see the principles of Catholic social teaching being lived out,” Sylvester said. “It reinforces what they learn at AHA. The students are always changed by the experience of direct work with the poor. They also develop friendships which continue long after their week of service ends.”
In fact, the Angel volunteers met AHA alumna Danielle Flood, who was chaperoning a group from Gonzaga the same week.
Sylvester pointed out that volunteers give up social media and all electronics, including watches and phones, so they can be present for each other and the people they serve.
Gabriella Ragguci acknowledged that giving up her watch and phone was a challenge at first.
“(T)he best way to meet the challenge was just to accept it and go with the flow of it,” she said.
Without the distractions of electronics, the volunteers had to tap into their creativity and humor to keep everyone laughing and having a good time after dinner.
“For entertainment, my group made a parody of a song about our work day, did impressions of each other, and did a couple of contests that included the whole group,” Ragguci shared.
This Angel wanted to volunteer in the farm community because she is interested in home renovation.
“On the first day, Monday, all groups did chores around the farm,” she said. “Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday were the days we either went to a home to do renovations or stayed at the farm. We were split into separate groups, but I did roofing on Tuesday, home crew (working/staying at the farm by cleaning and making meals) on Wednesday, siding on Thursday, and then roofing again on Friday. Personally, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the trip and how conscious the farm was of its effects on the environment. Throughout the trip, the farm encouraged all to think and act consciously
with the planet in mind.”
Miloscia agreed, adding, “Nothing is wasted at Nazareth Farm. Many things are composted, and water is conserved. One night, we had an ‘energy fast’ when, in solidarity with those we were helping, we did not use electricity or the running water.”
Miloscia and Kiamue spent time weeding gardens and harvesting vegetables. Their team also worked at a senior center, where they restocked the food pantry and emptied a closet that needed repairs after a rainstorm. Afterward, the group reorganized the storage area, and had lunch with some of the seniors.
One night, the volunteers had dinner with members of the local community, who shared their stories.
“I think the Angels saw a strong sense of community, not only at the farm, but also in the community we served as we went to our work sites,” Miloscia said. “Many of the neighbors were so helpful and caring to each other and us as we did our work. They were always looking out for each other, and the residents we helped were so willing to share their stories with us and so excited to see us and the work on their houses.”
Founded by the School Sisters of Notre Dame in 1879, the Academy of the Holy Angels is the oldest private girls’ school in Bergen County. While AHA is steeped in Catholic tradition, this prestigious school serves young women from many cultural and religious backgrounds. Many go on to study at some of the nation’s best universities, earning high-ranking positions in medicine, government, law, education, public service, business, arts, and athletics. The Academy’s current leaders continue to further the SSND mission to provide each student with the tools she needs to reach the fullness of her potential—spiritually, intellectually, socially, and physically, by offering a first-rate education in a nurturing environment where equal importance is placed on academic excellence, character development, moral integrity, and service to others.