Naz Farm: Colgate Students Spend Winter Break Living The Simple Life



Charney, Deb

While the majority of Colgate students were visiting with family and friends, traveling, and catching up on some rest and relaxation over this year’s winter break, one small group of students traveled to Doddridge County, West Virginia to perform benevolent acts of service at Nazareth Farm. This peaceful Catholic community rooted in the cornerstones of community, service, simplicity, and prayer was home to ten Colgate students and Colgate’s Catholic Chaplain Mark Shiner from January 8 to 15. Nazareth Farm is a community of volunteers that is devoted to improving the lives of local residents suffering from sub-standard living conditions. The residents in need of repairs provide the supplies in exchange for manpower provided free of charge by the farm.Colgate students first-years Erin Brown and John Jimah, sophomores Devin Clifford, John Dunn, Chris Grillo and Laurie Pritchard, juniors Cindy Ryan and Nathan Skinner and seniors Laura Kenny and Jimmy Maritz, devoted themselves to the residents of Doddridge County and spent one week living and working at the farm. They were joined by approximately 40 other college students from schools such as the University of Virginia and Loyola of Chicago, as well as members of a college-age youth group from St. Joseph’s church in Chicago. The student volunteers worked alongside seven staff members who live and work at the farm year-round and have devoted their lives to the Catholic faith and the practice of serving those in need.At the beginning of the week, volunteers were divided into five work groups in which they participated in a variety of projects. Among the tasks given to Colgate students were painting, replacing floorboards, installing a tin roof, putting up new walls, and siding the outside of a house. Each day, four of the work groups left the farm to work on the housing projects. The remaining group spent the day at Nazareth Farm doing housework, taking care of the farm, and ensuring that a hot meal was on the table when the other volunteers returned from their sites. The typical day began bright and early with morning prayer, chores, and breakfast. After spending the day in groups on work sites, the volunteers returned for dinner and a recounting by each group of the day’s events. “Each group presents in a fun way, like song, interpretive dance, or ghost story,” Jimah said.In describing the daily schedule of events on the trip, Jimah was able to only recall the tasks, and knew very little about the times at which different events took place. “One thing we do at the farm is take off our watches!” he said. That’s just one example of the many ways in which the students immersed themselves in the simplistic lifestyle of the people at Nazareth Farm.The Colgate students involved got to take part in the wonderful experience of the farm’s weekly community night. Each Tuesday evening, even on weeks when there are no student volunteers in residence, members of the local community come to Nazareth Farm to eat dinner and share in a night of conversation. The residents who come to the farm each week gain a sense of community and family that they may otherwise lack in the rural, needy area in which they live. Shiner described the experience for the local community as an “extended Nazareth Farm family” in which residents and volunteers alike are invited to take part.This experience of conversing with local community residents was among the most rewarding parts of the trip for many students, including Pritchard and Ryan. Pritchard remarked that she was “amazed at the generosity and overall friendliness of the local people.” “Everybody has a story to tell!” added Ryan.Students also noted that friendships were formed at the work sites, as the local residents were involved in the work and never hesitated to offer a helping hand in the projects. This made for numerous friendships formed between student volunteers and the community members in need of their assistance. Because many of the residents were elderly and several lived alone, it was an opportunity for them to socialize and create bonds with members of a younger generation. Of course, these friendships were also rewarding for the students. Says Pritchard, “I spent a half an hour one day looking at pictures of a lady’s dog, and I loved every minute of it!” Mark Shiner, who performed service work alongside the student volunteers, described an experience he had meeting a 16 year old boy who lives with his grandparents in Doddridge County. The boy had never before talked to any of the volunteers, but an interaction with Shiner revealed that both men were musicians. In no time, a boy who was once timid among Nazareth Farm volunteers was making music with Shiner as they practiced drums and guitar together. Shiner recalled this experience and explained that music sharing was just one of the many ways in which he felt God brought people together as students, adults, staff, and community residents developed a bond throughout the week.In addition to the bonding between volunteers, community residents, and staff members, the week also included an element of religious significance for the Colgate student participants, the majority of whom are members of the Newman Community on campus. The experience at Nazareth Farm proved to be rich with spiritual experiences. Ryan remarked that the Christian ideals of the farm provided many instances of “prayer and reflection,” as well as a feeling among the volunteers that they were “doing God’s work” as they helped the local people improve their lives. The simplicity of the lifestyle of those who live and work at the farm year-round was also an inspiration to Colgate students, who spend the majority of their days enjoying the amenities that campus has to offer. We do not always think of citizens like the residents of Doddridge County, whose lives are without many of the material things we sometimes take for granted. Shiner remarked on an evening when the student volunteers began an impromptu hoedown at the farm. An evening of conversation led to two students mentioning that they know how to square dance. In no time, Shiner and Jimmy Maritz were providing guitar accompaniment to a group of over twenty students taking part in the dance! Of the week spent at Nazareth Farm, the students involved could say nothing but wonderful things. Perhaps the comments of Jimah stand out when looking for a way to sum up the week they spent in Doddridge County. He said, “It’s a wonderful experience, I hope everyone gets to go there. I am at a loss for words…but I know what I have experienced on this trip was very great. My greatest wish is that more people get this experience and discover things for themselves.” Shiner invites all students to consider participating in future trips to Nazareth Farm. For more information, visit