SRU students build cottages; provide services for Jamaican special needs residents

valerie robuck working with jamaicans

Valerie Robuck, a senior from Ridgway, practices hand lotion therapy on a Jacob’s Ladder resident. Robuck was part of a group of nine SRU students to spend a week during winter break doing volunteer work in Jamaica. (Photos submitted by Megan Magliocca, a senior from Slippery Rock, and Rev. Kevin Poecking, St. Peter Parish, Slippery Rock.)

Jan. 27, 2016

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - Nine Slippery Rock University students and an alumna teamed with local volunteers over winter break to help construct cottages for adult special needs residents in Moneague, Jamaica.

The students, all members of the Rock Catholic Club at SRU, included: Valerie Robuck, a senior English major from Ridgway; Megan Magliocca, a senior early childhood education major from Slippery Rock; Meghan Cain, a senior early childhood education major from Twinsburg, Ohio; Joseph (Joey) Hritz, a senior health and physical education teaching major from Mentor, Ohio; Sara Kucenski, a senior early childhood-special education major from Ridgway; Samantha Placzek, a senior early childhood-special education major from North Aurora, Illinois; Ryan Walker, a junior recreational therapy major from Warwick, New York; Catherine (Katie) Rauenzahn, a sophomore early childhood-special education major from Fleetwood; and Rachel Putch, a senior recreational therapy major from Wexford.

Deborah Takacs, a 1988 SRU graduate who majored in therapeutic recreation with a minor in exceptionalities, joined the group as a team leader. Takacs currently teaches at Lenape Technical School, Ford City.

Partnering with volunteers from St. Peter Church in Slippery Rock, the group spent a week in Jamaica working side-by-side with Jamaican staff at Jacob's Ladder, which is part of the Mustard Seed Communities.

MSC began in 1978 in Kingston, Jamaica as a home for children with disabilities. As the community grew, it expanded to additional facilities in Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic and Zimbabwe. The majority of MSC programs are dedicated to the care of children with serious physical and mental disabilities such as Down syndrome, hydrocephalus, cerebral palsy and muscular dystrophy. MSC also cares for children affected by HIV/AIDS and has a home for teenage mothers and their babies. MSC opened Jacob's Ladder near Moneague, Jamaica nearly nine years ago to house and care for adults with special needs.

According to MSC leaders, "In Jamaica, there are no facilities - governmental or otherwise - available to take care of individuals with mental and physical disabilities after they reach 18 years of age. The vision for Jacob's Ladder is to fill this void by providing 400 young adults with mental and physical disabilities with a home where they can live out their lives. Upon completion, we will have 100 cottages for staff and residents. At present, there are more than 90 residents living at Jacob's Ladder and new cottage construction is ongoing."

In addition to helping construct cottages, the students helped at the CARE clinic where residents receive treatment, exercise and programs for their special needs.

Despite the long workdays and calloused hands, the SRU volunteers said they found the experience life changing.

"My experience in Jamaica was so eye opening. The people there lead lives that are so different from ours. Some of the residents that I met immediately captured my heart. If I were to go back to Jamaica, it would not be for a vacation. It would be to visit with the people there and learn more about them," Magliocca said.

Robuck, for whom this was her first trip out of the country, echoed those sentiments. "As much as we planned and prepared, I learned that there were just some things that we had to jump into head first. There were many games of kickball, singing, dancing, braid sessions and laughter. Being able to talk and hang out with the residents of Jacob's Ladder allowed us to see the world from their view. Working as a team and building the houses for the residents and helping MSC achieve their goal to take in and care for, as many people as possible, were two of the best parts about this trip. These experiences change our lives and our perspective on life. The people we met, the memories we made and the praise we gave will be carried in our hearts forever."

This was alumna Takacs' second experience working with MSC.

"This trip affected me even more profoundly than my first trip, as I was able to spend the week helping to construct housing units for the residents at Jacob's Ladder. I also had the opportunity to spend time with the amazing group of individuals that made up our team. We worked feverishly for well over a year to raise money for this trip and every moment spent preparing for the trip and the time that I had at Jacob's Ladder is something that I will never forget. I was most impressed and inspired by the group of Slippery Rock University students who chose to devote their final week of winter break to help those less fortunate. They shared their talents and their compassion for others in ways that made me very proud to be an SRU alumna," she said.

"Just like Deb," Placzek said, "this was also my second mission trip. I can't put into words what traveling to Jamaica has done to my outlook on life: The people that we serve truly make me think twice before I complain about anything. When I found out that 10 students were going on this year's trip, my excitement grew. We had such a great group and I loved being able to share my love of Jamaica and Mustard Seed Communities with them. The adults with disabilities that we were able to spend time with were among my favorite memories of the week, as they were always so welcoming, no matter how sweaty and dirty we were from working on our project for the day. Seeing the smiles on their faces wiped away any negative thoughts I may have had about work that day. I'm so proud of the work that our wonderful team accomplished that week."