Mahoning Valley Ulster Project connects American and Irish students

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Neighbors | Submitted.Student participants of the Mahoning Valley Ulster Project worshipped one Sunday at St. Rose's Catholic Church in Girard.

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Neighbors | Submitted.Members of the Mahoning Valley Ulster Project spent a weekend at Camp Elkhorn together during the month long stay by Northern Ireland students with local students.

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Neighbors | Submitted.Mahoning Valley Ulster Project students volunteered at Potential Development during the month long project.

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Neighbors | Submitted.Student members of the Ulster Project, both locally and from Northern Ireland, are pictured working at the Jubilee Gardens.

By JESSICA HARKER

jharker@vindy.com

The Mahoning Valley Ulster Project connects local teenagers with students from Northern Ireland.

Greg Hartz, who helps organize the project, said that the goal of the group is to break down stereotypes about religion.

“We want to show everyone that we are all more alike than we are different,” Hartz said.

Students from Ireland come to the United States for a month, staying with American families. This year, 10 students visited from Ireland, five boys and five girls.

Hartz said that the groups tries to select half Catholic and half Protestant students to help break the religious barriers.

“It’s not as bad as it once was,” said Irish student Dan Gilmore who participated in the program this year. “But there is definitely an undercurrent of tension.”

During the month, Ulster Project students spend their days participating in a number of service projects.

Students visited the Inn and Poland Way, volunteered at soup kitchens, spent time at the Purple Cat along with a number of other projects.

“They develop leadership skills,” Hartz said. “I think it helps everyone to be able to go forward and continue to do the right thing.”

Along with service work students spend time together going camping and making day trips with their host families.

“For a lot of these students it is the first time they are away from home,” Hartz said. “We really try to keep them busy so they feel less home sick.”

Gilmore said that he visited Niagara Falls with his host family, as well as the drive in movie theatre and the Jewish heritage museum.

“We all get along really well,” Gilmore said. “All of the people I have met have been really lovely.”

Hartz said that the group also worships at a different church every Sunday.

Students visited St. Roses Catholic Church, a Jewish Temple and a Mosque.

American students participating in the group come from across the Mahoning Valley. Hartz said that students come from Canfield, Boardman, South Range, Jackson Milton and Ursuline high schools and that the group has been operating in Mahoning Valley for 32 years.

“We want to keep the program going for as long as possible, but it is not without its challenges,” Hartz said.

He explained that this year the group struggled to find American homes to place Irish students in.

The last Irish student was placed the day before the students arrived in America.

“We hope we can get more volunteers,” Hartz said. “We know it is a big commitment but it’s only a month and it’s an experience that is unique.”

Anyone interested in participating in the program in 2020 can contact Hartz at 330-770-1440.

For more information on the group, visit their Facebook page at Mahoning Valley Ulster Project.

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