Stonehill Student-Athletes Providing “HOPE” on Spring Break

By Erica LaBranche, ‘13

Seated (l-r): Sara Nagle, Adelle Dagher. Standing (l-r): Stephen Burkardt, Stephen Leonard, Vivian Fitzgerald, Laura Huselton, Emily Dolan, Mark White and Alex Willgoos.
As March rolls around, most students are getting out their suitcases and heading somewhere sunny, warm, and tropical with only one thing on their mind: spring break. This is the time of year for students to relax and forget about the stress of homework and tests, allowing them to shift their focus to having fun with a trip to Florida or Cancun, or just relaxing at home. This year, nine Stonehill College student-athletes will be experiencing a different type of break, participating in the College’s alternative spring break program called HOPE (“Honoring our neighbor, Organizing for justice, Practicing peace, Encountering God”).

HOPE allows students to travel to both domestic and international sites such as California, New Orleans, New Jersey, New York, Tennessee, West Virginia, Dominican Republic, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Peru and participate in community service projects throughout the week. 


Senior Mark White, a member of the track and field team, is a student leader for the group heading to Nicaragua. He feels that HOPE is not just a one-week trip but a four- to-five-month experience. To become a part of HOPE there is both an application and interview process, which involves the student explaining why they want to be a part of the program.

“Being a student leader, I had to interview the students and evaluate them, seeing where they would fit with each group,” says White. “We’ve had so many people apply for HOPE this year that we actually had to add two more trips so that we didn’t have to turn people away.”

The application process starts in September and students generally know their placements by mid-October. Students rank the trips they would like to attend and normally receive within their top three. Once assigned to a trip, the student then spends the time until spring break bonding with their group through monthly orientation meetings and fundraising.

“Fundraising is a huge part of HOPE,” says White.

At a cost of $1,450 per person, White’s group worked extremely hard to raise as much money as they could. “We went together as a group to Shaw’s in Easton for donations,” White said. “We also wrote letters to businesses, newspapers, as well as family members asking for any help they could give.”

According to White, his group raised enough money not only to support the cost of their trip but also to pay for a scholarship to give to a high school or college student in Nicaragua, as well as the construction of a latrine and solar panels within the community.

On top of the donations, the group will also be involved in numerous projects in the community. “We will be building homes, doing construction, and teaching a local elementary school about dental hygiene,” says White.

Within this week full of service the group will immerse themselves in the culture with a two-day tour of the town.

“Learning about the culture and history allows us to get to know the people and see why they are so in need,” says White.

White, who has participated in two HOPE trips to New Orleans and Florida during his sophomore and junior years, truly enjoys doing service and helping out people in need.

“Through service trips like HOPE, I get to see new places I wouldn’t normally get to see,” says White. “But what means most to me is not so much the work I do down there but getting to know the people and hearing their stories.”


Another student-athlete participating in an international trip is junior Laura Huselton from the volleyball team, who will be traveling to the Dominican Republic. She and her group of Stonehill students will be volunteering at a center for education and vocational services, where they will be working with impoverished children and orphans.

Huselton feels that HOPE is all about seeing the world outside of the “Stonehill Bubble.”

“Doing HOPE is a good way for students who have never experienced poverty to see how a majority of the world lives,” says Huselton. “It helps you gain perspective on life and use the gifts you’ve been blessed with to give back.”

Huselton got involved with HOPE last year, when she traveled to New Orleans to help clean up the devastation from Hurricane Katrina. “It was an awesome experience where I got to learn a lot from helping others,” said Huselton.


Heading to New Orleans this year is sophomore Emily Dolan, a member of the equestrian team. She will be going on her first HOPE trip, and her group will be working to help clean up and build back the area that is still in ruin from Katrina. Throughout the week they will be building houses, cleaning up garbage, landscaping, planting trees, and much more.

Dolan, who participated in several service trips throughout high school, was happy to find out that she could go on a HOPE trip this year. “Last year I had a horse show during spring break, so I was unable to do HOPE, but this year luckily the schedule opened up,” says Dolan.  She is so dedicated to going on this trip that she is even flying down by herself, after the group flight, because of a horse show she has on Sunday.

While in New Orleans, Dolan hopes to create lasting relationships and experiences that will help her promote the trip for future generations. “On the trip I hope to get to know people in my group and to test my interpersonal skills,” says Dolan. “It’s a worthwhile experience that everyone should have.”


Also participating in a domestic trip is junior Stephen Burkhardt, from the football team, who will be flying to California. Burkhardt was inspired to do HOPE through his involvement in nonprofit organizations with his church.

“I really enjoy helping others,” says Burkhardt. “I just wanted to keep it going.”

Burkhardt and his group will be traveling to Coachella Valley to help build nonprofit housing for the people who live in the area. While there, members of the group will either stay in a community center or in home stays with local residents.

During the trip, Burkhardt hopes that he will be able to connect with the culture and bond with his group. “I just want to help out and hopefully be able to make connections with the people I am serving and working with,” says Burkhardt. “It’s an experience that I am really looking forward to.”

So as spring break creeps around the corner, these student-athletes will be getting ready for the service trip of a lifetime, an experience that will not only allow them to give back to those in need but also to take with them a new understanding and appreciation for the world.

“These trips affect you as a person, making you change the way you think,” says White. “It gives you a different perspective on things.”

It is that kind of perspective that will help make these student-athletes exceptional leaders in athletics, the classroom and life.

2011 Stonehill Athletics HOPE Participants
Mark White (Milton, Mass./Xaverian Brothers) – Senior, Track & Field, Nicaragua (Group Leader)
Stephen Burkardt (Cambridge, Mass./Trinity Catholic) – Sophomore, Football, California
Adelle Dagher (Methuen, Mass./Central Catholic) – Sophomore, Women’s Soccer, Dominican Republic
Emily Dolan (Lacrosse, Wis./Aquinas) – Sophomore, Equestrian, New Orleans
Vivian Fitzgerald (Winfield, Ill./Aurora Central Catholic) – Freshman, Volleyball, West Virginia
Laura Huselton (Penfield, N.Y./Penfield) – Junior, Volleyball, Dominican Republic
Stephen Leonard (Chatham, N.J./Chatham) – Freshman, Cross Country/Track & Field, West Virginia
Sara Nagle (Manchester, Conn./Manchester) – Sophomore, Women’s Soccer, Honduras
Alex Willgoos (Newington, Conn./Newington) – Freshman, Track & Field, New Orleans