August 2018
Jennifer Crusco
Communications Assistant

Volunteers Harvest Compassion for Humanity & the Earth at Nazareth Farm

Demarest, NJ: Based in West Virginia’s Dodridge County, Nazareth Farm invites volunteers to live the principles of Catholic social teaching and immerse themselves in the four cornerstones of prayer, simplicity, community, and service. For the last four years, the Academy of the Holy Angels has organized trips to this Appalachian destination so students are able to reap the benefits of service to others.

Led by AHA Director of Mission and Ministry Joan Connelly and Director of Campus Ministry Kathy Sylvester, this year’s student volunteers included Christina Bagin of Glen Ridge, Nicole Barbaro of Fort Lee, Emily LeHane of Pearl River (New York), and Kirsten Garino and Erin Maron of Oradell.

“I've known about Nazareth Farm for awhile,” Sylvester said when asked about AHA’s ties to the West Virginia locale. “Some in my family have gone, and other schools have gone. It is a wonderful way to reinforce what we tell students about Catholic social teaching at AHA. During this week, the students actually live out these principles."

Volunteers live together, pray together, serve the community, and live as simply as possible. There is no internet access, and each person is permitted just three showers per week. Working in small groups, the volunteers tackle projects at the farm and at nearby homes, where they perform renovations and repairs.

Commenting on her experience, Garino said she found that facing challenges together made even the most daunting tasks seem inconsequential.

“We were able to open up to the farm’s simplicity, and it was ultimately relaxing to be able to spend time living, laughing, and serving together without worrying about the time or whatever was happening online,” Garino noted.

“Seeing the farm’s focus on sustainability was particularly valuable to me. Everyone was extraordinarily conscious of energy and water consumption, and there was very little waste at the farm. Food scraps went straight back into the organic garden as compost, while plastic bags and jars were washed and reused multiple times over. That has already inspired us to consider AHA’s environmental impact and brainstorm ways to reduce the school’s eco footprint.”

In an effort to stand with people who do not have electricity or running water, the volunteers observed an “energy fast.” For one night, they did without these valuable resources.

“Nazareth Farm filled me with confidence in my own abilities and a stronger faith, but more than that, it filled me with a deep sense of gratitude for my extreme fortune in life to have so many blessings in the form of my family, my wonderful Holy Angels education, and resources that I take for granted,” Garino added. “I believe that Nazareth Farm is a very special place and that it served as an eye-opener for all. The week may have been challenging, but after all, challenge leads to change, and it's given us the tools and ambition to make a difference upon our return. We all look forward to bringing some of the farm’s love for the world and regard for creation back to AHA this fall.”

Maron discovered that she is capable with power tools and home repair. She found the people of West Virginia appreciative and welcoming. While the group from AHA was on site in early August, one homeowner baked cookies for the students and invited them into her house for a visit.

“I learned to be a more patient person as well as how to live a simpler and more environmentally friendly lifestyle,” Maron added.

As she learned to construct a ramp and install siding and purlins, LeHane delved into the history of West Virginia, and vowed to return.

“After my week at the farm, I have been a happier, livelier person,” LeHane added. “I am really trying to live out the four cornerstones at home. I have not felt this happy, excited about life, or this connected to God in a long time. I could not be more thankful for my week at Nazareth Farm. I know that this week was not my last week, and I hope to one day come back home to the farm.”

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 high school serves young women from a broad spectrum of cultural and religious backgrounds. Over time, thousands of women have passed through AHA’s portals. 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.


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