For most students at Our Lady of Mercy Academy in Syosset, the assembly portion of the final day of the school's Spirit Week was a culmination of costume prep and dance practice. But for one student, Friday's festivities were also a last blast of American fun before heading off to help people in need more than 1,500 miles away.
Alessandra Petrucci, a senior at Our Lady of Mercy, will leave on Wednesday for a six-day mission trip to the Dominican Republic. However, despite the cultural differences she'll likely encounter, a familiar presence will be with her during the journey — her mother.
“I told her this isn’t going to be Punta Cana,” said Petrucci's mother, Zully Petrucci, who is also a teacher at Our Lady of Mercy.
“I know it will be hard,” said Petrucci, who wanted to contribute as soon as she heard her mom had agreed to make the journey after another school employee who was to go got injured.
“And when I found out where after already agreeing, I was like, ‘whoa,’ ” she said.
The destination is an area known as San Pedro de El Cercado, a rural community deep within the mountains that's close to Haiti's border.
“These people have so little,” Zully said. “They live in dirt-floor shacks and their [version of a] kitchen is an outdoor fire in stones … but their faith is unbelievable.”
The mother-daughter duo will use their time in El Cercado to bring food to those in dire need.
“Everyone there is extremely impoverished,” Zully said, “but the people there pick amongst themselves whose situation is the worst, and we’ll bring food to those chosen.”
Petrucci and her mother will stay at a retreat house, which — while in better shape than much of the housing in the area — doesn’t have hot water or air conditioning. They'll also sleep on bunk beds under mosquito netting.
When asked if the prospect is daunting, Alessandra smiled and said, “I’ll make it.”
For Costume Day, the younger Petrucci wore a faux life preserver (her group theme included SpongeBob SquarePants characters), while her mom dressed as a Minion. Petrucci laughed and danced with her team, and her mother also had a moment before the crowd when it was the faculty’s turn to show off their costumes and perform in front of the entire student body.
The two don’t expect to find similarly overt joy come Wednesday, but they both smiled when asked if there’s any way to enjoy a trip that's almost certain to be especially demanding.
Alessandra softly declared, “It’s going to be good.”