By Josh Galvin ’13
Mr. Tommy Smith could not help but chuckle as he remembered the Greyhound bus ride to Los Angeles five years ago with Mr. John Damaso ’97 and eight students.
In the five years since that first trip, the L.A. Urban Plunge immersion has gained a stronger and stronger following, with 55 applicants in the past year, according to Mr. Smith.
“(The trips) follow along closely with the mission of Brophy: to educate intelligent young men who have an awareness of the world,” Mr. Smith said.
“They allow us to realize how blessed we are and how important it is to give back to those who aren’t as blessed.”
Mr. Smith has firsthand knowledge of the less fortunate from leading this trip; once he and his crew were dropped off in Los Angeles, they walked everywhere they went, living off of two meals a day in solidarity with the homeless.
Other activities included interacting with migrant workers at the Delores Mission, a Jesuit school run by the Rev. Scott Santarosa, S.J. as well as serving food at the Blessed Sacrament, a Jesuit parish.
His other trip, the NOLA Project, involved traveling to New Orleans in the aftermath of Katrina and gutting houses in HAZMAT suits.
Since then, the project has evolved to working with local organizations such as Habitat for Humanity, helping children at a nativity school and other activities.
To most students, immersion trips like these are an accepted aspect of campus life.
However, Assistant to the Assistant Principal for Ministry Mrs. Sue Hornbeck confirmed the program had humble origins.
The first three immersion trips were started in 1999 by the Office of Peace and Justice (now the Office of Faith and Justice). Students traveled to Nogales, Oaxaca or Juarez, but in recent years only Puebla, which is the new location of the original Oaxaca trip, has been deemed safe enough for student engagement because of border issues.
However, Mr. Tom Danforth ’78 and Mr. Andrew Schmidbauer ’88 continue to lead this trip every summer.
The immersion trip program has since grown sporadically, with new opportunities sprouting up as the years passed.
“The impact that these trips were having on students and faculty was so powerful that we had to expand the program,” Mr. Smith said.
The list of emerging trips includes the Argentina Exchange Program started by Mrs. Catharine Steffens and Mr. Damaso in the 2007-08 school year. Every February, 10 Argentinian students from El Colegio de Inmaculada Conceptión are chosen to travel to Phoenix and live with Brophy students.
“(The exchange students) go to classes, spend weekends at Manresa … and go to the Grand Canyon,” Mrs. Steffens said. “They participate in what it’s like to be a teen at a Jesuit high school in Phoenix, Arizona.”
In June, however, the tables are turned, and the same Brophy host students live in the humbler homes of the Argentina kids.
Although the trips Mrs. Steffens and Mr. Smith lead contrast starkly, both leaders made one idea clear: although the trips are sometimes treated like charity work for others, the end result is actually the creation of “bonds and links with people just like us.”
Michael Williams ’13, a participant of last year’s trip to Argentina, shared one stirring moment.
“We went to an orphanage to play games … and the kids were showing off their simple bunk beds,” Williams said.
“When it came time to leave, one of the boys broke his cookie in half and gave it to me. It was touching that they have so little but they’re willing to share it.”