BUFFALO, NY – More than 20 Canisius students participated in the university’s Winter Service Immersion experience, held annually during the institution’s winter break. Organized by the Canisius Office of Campus Ministry, the week-long winter immersion experience provides students with opportunities to serve, work and learn in some of the poorest communities across the country. All trips are centered around service, reflection and prayer, community and simple living. This year’s winter immersion sent students to two locations: Wheeling, WV and Los Angeles, CA.
“The most important parts of our trips are forming relationships and beginning a transformative process,” explains Spencer J. Liechty, director of campus ministry. “We want Canisius students to engage in the gritty reality of the world during their formation, analyze reasons of why the communities they are serving in remain marginalized and reflect on how they can transform their experiences into positive change.”
A group of 10 Canisius students traveled to Wheeling, WV for a week to serve and advocate for and with the people of Appalachia. Coordinated in partnership with the House of Hagar Catholic Worker Community and Grow Ohio Valley, the immersion steeped students in the history and culture of Appalachia, its people and its economic parameters. Conversations focused on current issues facing Appalachia, specifically the effects of the coal mining industry on the community water supply, food insecurity and homelessness. Students also partnered with various organizations in the Wheeling area to serve meals at a soup kitchen, assist at an afterschool program, help with home repair projects, and work on a local, organic farm cooperative.
A group of 11 Canisius students traveled to East Los Angeles for a week to explore issues of restorative justice, urban education and homelessness. The contingent was hosted by Dolores Mission, a Jesuit parish and thriving faith community located in East LA. Established in 1925 to serve the poor, Spanish-speaking immigrants of the community, the Dolores Mission today works to counteract the neighborhood’s negative circumstances, which have been hampered by poverty, social inequity and gang violence, by providing a welcoming environment for those experiencing homelessness, trauma, grief or any other issues.
During their immersion, students interacted with parishioners and school children affiliated with Dolores Mission, as well as community leaders who spoke about efforts to create change in the immediate area. They visited Homeboy Industries, the largest gang rehabilitation and re-entry program in the world, and volunteered with the Guadalupe Homeless Project, which houses refugee families and provides sanctuary for undocumented immigrants. During their stay, students also prepared and served food to the homeless on the streets of Skid Row, while volunteering with Midnight Mission. The organization is a comprehensive homeless shelter and homeless service provider that provides structure and resources to those who want to improve their lives.
"I've been on the service trip to Wheeling and most recently to East LA and both have changed me in the best way possible," says biochemistry major Jebediah Branunscheidel '25. "Part of a Canisius education is becoming men and women 'for and with others' and you truly experience what that means on these trips. The connections you make are so deep that you realize you have worth and the people you're helping have worth, and that allows you to become your whole self."
Canisius was founded in 1870 in Buffalo, NY, and is one of 27 Jesuit colleges and universities in the U.S. Consistently ranked among the top institutions in the Northeast, Canisius offers undergraduate, graduate and pre-professional programs distinguished by close student-faculty collaboration, mentoring and an emphasis on ethical, purpose-driven leadership.