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Monday, May 27, 2024
The Observer

Saint Mary’s club begins local advocacy, rebrand

On Monday night, the McAllen Immersion Trip had its first meeting of the year. Despite its small turn out, the club introduced some big ideas for this year, including a name change and plans to partner with South Bend organizations as part of their outreach efforts.

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Advisors Kathryn Lyndes (back row, middle) and Leonard Sanchez (front row, far right) took Saint Mary’s students to McAllen, Texas in 2020 to help asylum seekers by giving food, medical supplies and other support.


The meeting kicked off with a brief presentation by the board, explaining the mission and history of the McAllen Immersion Trip. The organization was founded Leonard Sanchez, chair of the Saint Mary’s social work department who currently serves as one of the club’s two advisors.

“A sister reached out to a friend of mine, asking about having a social work intern in McAllen, Texas,” Sanchez said. “And I reached back to them and asked if I could make it more extensive and bring more students on a spring break trip.”

During the presentation, vice president Ana Raciti talked further about the trip to McAllen in early 2020. Five students and both advisors went for a week to help asylum seekers by providing support, food and aid wherever they could, she said. But due to the pandemic, the club has not been able to go a similar trip in the past three years. 

“This year, we’re really trying to get awareness generated and get people to know about the club so hopefully we can go down to a similar town in the future,” Raciti said. 

Because the club has not been able to return to McAllen, a name change was in order. This year, Raciti said the board spent two hours deciding what to rename the club, hoping the new name would create greater awareness and be as inclusive as possible. 

“So we came up with the name Belles Unite Borders, otherwise known as BUBs, to kind of show that we are an all encompassing club that is really dedicated and passionate about serving people from all over, not just individuals who are trying to cross the Mexican border near McAllen, Texas,” Raciti said.

The club feels that the new name reflects their desire to help this multitude of people in various ways other than the trip to McAllen. 

“This club is mostly to spur not only awareness but help towards the community of immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers,” club president Diana Neri said. 

Despite not being able to take large trips due to COVID-19, the club has not let that stop them from making plans to help people. During the meeting, they reviewed several ideas for how to help people as the semester continues. 

”When we’re not going on these big trips, our club is really focused on just lending a helping hand to people both in the local area and also on the national scale, specifically immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers,” Raciti said. 

Sanchez said there are a number of places in Chicago the club wants to reach out to. They also hope to take a roadtrip there as well, he said. 

“We’ve also been recently talking about the La Casa de Amistad, which is another location here in South Bend that does similar work to us, but they do it on a better scope because they’ve been more founded than we have," Raciti said. 

Neri said that as president, her goal for the year is to increase club involvement. Only two board members are returning members, and Neri said a lot of the board members heard about the club because she’s been recruiting for the club since arriving at Saint Mary’s. 

“Since my freshman year, I’ve been advocating for this club because not many people know about it. So one goal personally is to get people actually committed and wanting to do the work,” she said. 

With all the fundraising and awareness that they are hoping to gain this year, Sanchez said there are some hopes of going to McAllen in a year, but it is gong to take a bit of time and effort. All the board is rallying for this, despite all being seniors because no current club members went on the McAllen trip, he said. 

“They’re taking on a vision that initially they weren’t a part of but they’re keeping it alive,” he said. “They can always go on the trips as alums. I would love for alums to come in and be with our current students on such an adventure going back to McAllen. It wasn’t meant for just one year, COVID-19 just kind of derailed it for a bit.”