By Ben Donohoe
This past weekend, 516 Loyola students and over 110 faculty members spent 28 hours on campus and across Los Angeles as part of the First Year Retreat.
The First Year Retreat took place for the 25th year in a row, bringing freshmen, transfer students, Big Brothers, Junior Ground Crew and faculty members together. The retreat, organized primarily by Dr. Evelyn Mabra (née Jimenez), Mr. Matthew Schaeffer and Mr. Michael Shawver of Campus Ministry, includes numerous team-building activities, spiritual experiences and opportunities for reflection.
The Big Brother program has been a significant part of the First Year Retreat since the retreat’s inception. It is composed of 110 seniors whose mission is to serve as mentors and guides for new Cubs. In addition to their work at the retreat, Big Brothers are involved with the freshman orientation and the “Take Your Little Brother to the Game” event.
The application process to become a Big Brother begins in February of the applicants’ junior year. “There is a lot that goes into the application process,” Mr. Schaeffer, Co-Director of Campus Ministry, said, “Big Brothers have to fill out an application, write a personal statement, get a letter of recommendation from a teacher, and [interview]with either myself, Dr. Mabra, or Mr. Shawver. Then, after that, there is a disciplinary check and an academic check. . . . We make decisions from there.”
In addition to the rigorous and competitive application process, Big Brothers partake in a significant amount of training. The group met in June for team building activities and instructions regarding small group facilitation and mentoring. They also decided on the theme of the retreat, “Aspire to Inspire.”
Because Big Brothers are critical to mentoring freshmen, they are expected to display several key characteristics, according to Mr. Schaeffer. “I think first and foremost, [Big Brothers are] ambassador[s]of Loyola, so they [represent]Loyola well,” Schaeffer said. “Secondly, they are mentor[s], and they are willing to help a freshman or a transfer student through his first weekend. The third thing is that they are fired up and excited and have a good amount of energy to sustain them through the whole weekend.”
During the retreat Big Brothers lead their Little Brothers in a variety of team building exercises. Additionally, Big Brothers host a dinner and prayer service at one of their own homes and talk to their Little Brothers about the Loyola experience. Throughout all of these activities, Big Brothers and Little Brothers are forming long-lasting friendships, according to Mr. Schaeffer: “There’s a lot of bonding that happens this weekend…. I think that the bond, the friendship is not something that exists for just this weekend, but a lasting thing.”
Big Brother Hunter Tiedemann was deeply moved by his experience at the retreat. “To be able to see the freshmen see you as an example and . . . want to be like you– that is a really empowering, humbling experience, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
While Big Brothers actively mentor freshmen during the First Year Retreat, the Junior Ground Crew program handles the behind-the-scenes aspects of the retreat.
The Junior Ground Crew was started six years ago by Mr. J. Michael Wood, Loyola’s previous Dean of Men; Mr. Daniel Annarelli, current Dean of Men; and Mr. Brian Held, AP Economics and AP Statistics teacher. Mr. Held won the John Morton Excellence in the Teaching of Economics Award from the Council for Economic Education on the Friday before the retreat. Although the conference where he received the award was in St. Petersburg, Florida, Mr. Held still managed to assist the Junior Ground Crew on Sunday.
Like the Big Brother program, the Junior Ground Crew has a rigorous and competitive application process, according to Mr. Annarelli. Out of 150 applicants, only 60 are selected. A selection committee votes on which applicants they find to be most deserving; these votes are then tabulated, and the field is ranked. After a disciplinary and community service fulfillment check, the applicants who receive the most votes are accepted.
Junior Ground Crew members play an integral role in the retreat by completing a myriad of different tasks. Members help out at the Olympic games, serve food, go to the homes of the Big Brothers to help with dinner, set up Xavier Center for Mass, sing at Mass on Sunday, and clean up after the retreat. “It is really a servant leadership role from start to finish,” Mr. Annarelli said.
The Junior Ground Crew truly embodies what a Loyola education is, according to Mr. Annarelli. “It’s kind of amazing that we have about 150 applicants every year for a weekend of service and hard work [with]no accolades whatsoever, and it’s amazing that at Loyola High School, so many kids want to give up their weekend to do service for their school,” Mr. Annarelli said. “This group is all about servant leadership and hard work and dedication in a very Ignatian way—to toil and not to seek for rest, to labor and not to ask for reward. It [the Junior Ground Crew]is very symbolic.”
Junior John McNicholas enjoyed his experience on the Junior Ground Crew. “I loved being able to see [the First Year Retreat]from a different end and not just from a freshman perspective but from a leadership role where I could help out the Big Brothers and really . . . give that same special experience to those freshmen like I had when I was a freshman.”
Junior Ryan Parks agreed. “I had such a good experience on my . . . retreat that I wanted to make sure the seniors as well as the freshmen had that same experience,” Parks said. “I’m grateful that I joined it [the Junior Ground Crew].”
Faculty members are also greatly involved in the First Year Retreat; each Loyola faculty member assists with the retreat at some point during the weekend.
Thirty-seven teachers and staff visit the homes of the Big Brothers during the dinner and prayer service. Mr. Thomas Goepel, AP U.S. History and AP Art History teacher, has led a dinner and prayer service every year that the retreat has taken place.
“[The Saturday evening dinner and prayer service] is a great opportunity for the freshmen to get more integrated into Loyola, to bond with other freshmen, [and]to meet some older students who, perhaps, could be mentor figures. Gathering over dinner as well as the entire retreat is a great opportunity for them [the freshmen]to get deeper into the Loyola experience and the Loyola community,” Goepel said.
Big Brother Jared Gonzales agreed with the significance of the evening service, saying, “The prayer service was a moment where we were really able to open up and be honest and let people know how we are feeling and let God know how we are feeling.”
For freshman David Anawalt, the First Year Retreat provided an opportunity to connect with fellow Cubs that he did not know well prior to the retreat. Anawalt said his favorite part of the retreat was making new friends in his retreat group: “I probably had about seven kids [in my group], and I just made seven new friends that I can talk to now.” Freshman Will Kupiec agreed, saying that the retreat “helped everyone get to know each other better.”
Freshman Johnathan Wong said that the retreat brought the freshmen class together. “The activities [at the retreat]had us working together. We were all laughing together, and it felt like we were creating a bond between each other,” Wong said. “It was an amazing experience, and I’m really glad I chose to come to Loyola.”