Impact Story: Erin McHugh

How did you get involved with Hand in Hand?

The youth group at Epiphany Catholic Church introduced me to Hand in Hand. The first time I went on a mission trip with Hand in Hand was in 2006 when I was in sixth grade. I had no idea what to expect, but was excited about exploring new places and doing home repairs with my friends from church. While the excitement of power tools, construction, and a trip with friends initially drew me to Hand in Hand, it was the relationships I built that kept me coming back year after year. Every summer for seven years, I would count down the days to our annual trip to Auxier. Every year I would recruit more friends to come with me, to see the place I had fallen in love with. I loved immersing myself in the culture of line dancing, karaoke night, and swimming in the lake, but most importantly in the fellowship with the people of Appalachia.

How did your trip to Auxier alter the course of your life?

At the time, I had no idea the greater influence these yearly trips to Auxier would have on my life. These trips were the first time that I was able to serve others without my family, and it allowed me to foster my own love for service and mission. These trips ignited in me a passion for service and mission. They allowed me to see that the best way to find myself was to lose myself in the service of others. When I was serving those in need, I was at peace and able to let down the walls I often kept up. I am able to pause and enjoy the little things in life with those that most of society would ignore.

As I look back now, service and mission has always been a huge part of my life. My time on Hand in Hand mission trips helped shape the person I am today. When I went off to college, I got involved with the alternative breaks and went on several other trips to Appalachia. The more trips and places I went my passion and longing for more grew. After a three-month immersion trip to South Africa, I felt like God was calling me to become a missioner. I wanted to give my life to the service of others. My heart was on fire and I was ready to jump headfirst into life as a full-time missioner. I found Franciscan Mission Service (FMS), a mission organization for lay- Catholics to live in solidarity with impoverished and marginalized societies around the world. As a lay-missioner with FMS, in served in Washington DC, Jamaica and Guatemala. I spent the most of my time serving in a boarding school in Guatemala nearly three years. On mission, my heart was moved with compassion for the cycles of poverty and injustices people had to endure, however I strived to love and empower those I served alongside to share their stories. I dreamed of creating a transition house for young women in Guatemala, which would give them a stable environment to encourage them to pursue their professional and educational dreams. While I haven’t been able to achieve this dream yet , I continue to live out my purpose as a missioner by giving voice to the voiceless and walking in solidarity with those in need.

What is your role now?

Due to the pandemic, I am no longer an oversea lay-missioner, but I still hold onto that identity and calling in my life. Now I live out my mission as the Youth Minister at Epiphany Catholic Church. I am grateful to share my experience with the youth and provide them with similar opportunities. As a youth group we still go on trips with Hand in Hand in hopes of planting seeds of service and care for the poor within their hearts of our youth.

Advice to Someone who is Interested in a Trip:

My advice to someone who is interested in a trip would be to go for it. Do not be afraid to go alone. You will meet some many wonderful people. You will build relationships that will last a lifetime. Embrace the trip and everything it has to offer. Challenge yourself to step outside your comfort zone to immerse yourself into a different culture or experience. Your time will not be wasted on a mission trip with Hand in Hand. It will shape you and continue to be with you the rest of your life, and who knows maybe it will influence the future of your life, like it did for me. No matter what, you will be blessed and changed for the good.

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