A Delayed ESCAPE Brings S’mores, Humor, and Reflection

By Maya Mohosin (C’27) 

Students, ESCAPE Program Director, Dr. Fauci and Dr. Grady outside the CCC during ESCAPE

(left to right) Nick Vianna (C‘25), Alice Chen (SFS‘24), Koby Twist (C‘25), and Nicole Sandonato, ESCAPE Program Director, during Dr. Fauci and Dr. Grady’s visit to ESCAPE.

Initially drawn to the promise of warm, gooey s’mores and perfect starry skies at the Calcagnini Contemplative Center (CCC), Alice Chen (SFS’24) quickly discovered that the ESCAPE retreat had so much more in store for her, including a new way of thinking, guided by Ignatian ideas and positivity, and a new passion for service.

During her first retreat, delayed a year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Alice enjoyed everything about the ESCAPE experience: the free time,  the scheduled programming, and everything in between. Lying on the grass, eating delicious s’mores, and talking with new friends was truly the cherry on top after a day of contemplation and discussion. In fact, it was during this retreat that Alice met her future (now current) roommate and many of her close friends. It was this positive experience that prompted Alice to apply as a retreat leader and co-coordinator for the program for the 2023-2024 year.

At the CCC, there is an indescribable magic that seems to separate it from the busy lives Hoyas have on the Hilltop, and Alice loves being part of that. By combining serious and deep reflection with humor and positive energy, Alice hopes that students find the sense of balance and community-building that she experienced during her first retreat.

Welcoming 40 to 50 first-year students to the CCC every weekend is no easy feat. Alice and her co-coordinator, Koby Twist (C’25), help Nicole Sandonato, the ESCAPE Program Director, ensure everything is ready, whether that’s correcting misspelled name tags or running around to check all the logistics are in place. But it is all worth it when Alice sees the wonder and excitement ignite in the eyes of the students who attend ESCAPE. 

Alice Chen leading a group of students at ESCAPE during an activity

Alice leads a game called “All My Friends and Neighbors!” where ESCAPEes and leaders get to learn more about each other.

After the retreats, Alice maintains a connection with the first-year attendees and guides them through their time outside the CCC. Sometimes they look at her in astonishment, forgetting that she is also a student and not just a part of the CCC. 

“I feel lucky to be able to see the first-years grow and use their time at ESCAPE, to guide them through the challenges and experiences of freshman year,” says Alice.  

Though Alice does not practice a specific religion, ESCAPE has deepened her understanding of Ignatian spirituality and how people with different faith backgrounds can use the tools of Ignatian spirituality in their own reflection and figuring out their values and what they want in their lives. Since the retreat is geared toward all first-years, regardless of religious or spiritual background, ESCAPE aims to introduce a new, grounded approach toward college and life that Alice finds inspiring. Through Ignatian thought, Alice has improved her understanding of communicating and relating to those from different walks of life.

After graduation this spring, Alice will be moving to New York to work as a legal analyst, integrating her studies as an International Economics major with her interests in development and policy, and maybe going to law school in the future. She also plans to utilize the many skills learned coordinating retreats, specifically maintaining humor and positive energy, which is what attendees say is what makes ESCAPE so magical. She credits Nicole Sandonato, and the student leaders she worked alongside, whose humor and energy helped make planning retreats an enjoyable task. 

“I would describe ESCAPE as an unexpectedly transformative experience that taught me so much,” says Alice. “People go on retreats for a multitude of reasons, but the more engaged and involved a person becomes, the more they gain from ESCAPE.”

She hopes that more future first-years take advantage of the program. While many come for the s’mores, she hopes they stay for the transformative process. In the warmth of ESCAPE’s fire and the laughs during free time, Alice’s journey is a reminder that growth is always within reach, waiting for those who seek it.

Maya Mohosin (C’27) is a communications assistant for Campus Ministry.

Photos courtesy of the ESCAPE program. 

Class of 2024
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