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Meet the Travelers to Ecuador 2016 St Mary’s (Los Gatos, CA) Immersion Trip

Carol DeCarvalho: I was born and raised in Southern California and now reside in the Santa Cruz Mountains with my husband Francis. We are also part time residents of a co-housing community in Santa Cruz. I am a member of the St. Mary’s core group who has helped organize the immersion trips to Ecuador since 2008 and I am a BVM Associate. As far as immersion experiences, I was in the Jesuit Volunteer Corps when I was in my 20s. I lived and worked with the Navajo People in Arizona as a pediatric physical therapist focused on children with special needs. The reservation is the largest one in the US and extends into several states. My eyes were opened to the experience of a 3rd world country within the United States. One of the reasons I am going on this trip is to stand in solidarity with people whose life experience is so different from my own. I know I have a lot to learn from them. Currently I work part time as a pediatric physical therapist in the school system. In my spare time I enjoy walking and hiking. Pictured is my husband Francis and I, who had the wonderful experience of walking on the Camino de Santiago through Portugal and Spain last summer. This is an ancient pilgrimage following the route of St. James.


Carmella Huser:  Like Carol, I am a BVM Associate. I am originally from Kenosha, WI, but I live in Redwood City, CA now. I have 4 children and 12 grandchildren. I’m retired and am happy to have the freedom that retirement brings! My daughter, Joan Huser, and my grandson, Nicholas Altabet, will be coming on this trip, as well as my sister-in-law, Pat Ciotti, and my “adopted son,” Jeff Cologna. This will be my third trip to the Working Boys Center and my second to Damien House. I’m a strong supporter of the work done at the WBC to help the poor gain marketable skills to work themselves out of poverty and at Damien House to serve the poor with Hansen’s disease. It’s great fun to meet the kids at the WBC, the residents at the Damien House and the volunteers who support these missions. I’m looking forward to seeing Fr. Haligan and Madre Miguel and hearing their entertaining stories.


Jeff Cologna: I live in Bloomingdale, Illinois with my wife Romi and 17-year-old son Kenny. I work in Chicago at a cellular phone company named U.S. Cellular. I’m a member of their corporate venture and strategic partnerships team. In my free time, I’m one of several grassland preservation stewards who are actively working to restore over 4,000 acres of severely degraded land back to a beautiful diverse ecosystem in north central Illinois. I grew up in Kenosha, Wisconsin living a couple blocks from the Huser family. I’ve never participated in an immersion trip but have traveled internationally for pleasure. Korea, Japan, France, UK, Mexico, Jamaica, and the Canadian Arctic Circle are the counties and places I’ve traveled to so far. I’m interested in this trip because I feel I have so much to learn from my fellow man. I live in a bubble that shelters me from many good things as well as many of the harsh realities of the world. I’ve found hands-on real-world experience is the best teacher on becoming a compassionate and moral person.


Joan Huser: I am Nicholas Altabet’s mom, Carmella Huser’s daughter, Pat Ciotti’s niece, and Jeff Cologna’s long-time friend (all fellow travelers). I have lived in Saratoga, CA for over 23 years and am originally from Kenosha, Wisconsin. I have four wonderful sons, ages 14-22, and a terrific husband who will be home with our 14-year-old while I am in Ecuador. Although I have never participated on an immersion trip, three of my sons have had wonderful experiences doing so. I have traveled to many countries—most recently Spain, the Czech Republic, and Austria over the past two weeks—but never to South America which I cannot wait to see! I lived in Tokyo for 2 1/2 years before moving to California. My hobbies include daily 6 am boot camp, hiking, biking, skiing, and playing the piano. I work full time in the semiconductor industry for a company headquartered in Austria. Because my mom raves about this trip and the philosophies of the Working Boys Center, I am interested in learning what the organization is all about. My son Nicholas is graduating one quarter early from college and was interested in doing some traveling. It seems the stars aligned and here we are.

Pat Ciotti: I am a retired school library media specialist and taught library science classes at a local university for 8 years. Born and raised in Wisconsin, I also lived in Houghton, Michigan, and Colorado before landing in Wichita, Kansas. I do volunteer work with my church’s St. Vincent de Paul Society and other organizations, Lord’s Diner, public library, Global Learning Center, FOCUS Central America, and School of Americas Watch (have participated in the November vigil at Ft. Benning since 2003). Over the years my family has hosted several exchange students from various parts of the world. My three children have spent several years studying/traveling/working in other countries, also. In February of 2013, I participated in an immersion trip to the Working Boys Center with a group from Wisconsin, a very rewarding experience. So that is a big reason why I want to make the trip this year. Travel is so much more beneficial when one has the opportunity to meet and interact with local people. In 2007, I traveled on a Global Awareness Through Experience trip throughout Guatemala and in 2012 was an election observer in El Salvador. Other places I’ve traveled include Peru, Mexico, Cuba, and Guatemala (4 times), as well as several trips to European countries.


Kim Burke:  I have lived in the Bay Area most of my life and was born in Glendale, California.  Currently, I live in Los Gatos close to my brother and his family. We come from a very large family. I also have 3 sons Brandon-34 (lives in Tahoe), Tyler-30 and Nathan-25 both live together in Oakland. They are in the film and music industries. I am very blessed that we are “close” and stay very connected. We value family gatherings, going hiking and even to the archery range together when we can arrange a date.

I have recently semi-retired in June 2015 after teaching for 29 years in grades K-8, training and mentoring teachers and now substituting 1-2 days a week. This has been a very rewarding profession. I am also from a family of teachers with 2 nieces who will be starting their student teaching in the fall. I have also worked for the last 7 years at outdoor concert venues in Saratoga as an usher-Saratoga Mt. Winery and Montalvo.

This is my first immersion trip and I feel so blessed to be going and traveling in that part of the world. I am looking forward to meeting and working with the students, as well as, seeing the aspects of the culture. I have been to Costa Rica, most of the Hawaiian Islands, many of the western states and Mexico. Now that I am semi-retired I am looking forward to many new adventures and finally more traveling!

I very much enjoy getting to know people and hearing their stories. I love to garden, hike, read and Mt. Bike. Most of all, I feel blessed just listening to others as they choose to share their journey with me. This is a picture from one of our annual Thanksgiving Turkey hikes….we picnic in the forest and even take in the turkey!



Edna Perry: I reside in San Jose and I am a member of the Church of the Transfiguration Parish. My father was in the Navy. I lived in various coastal cities from Annapolis, Maryland (where I was born), to Honolulu, Hawaii. I continued to travel as I grew older. In college, I spent 6 weeks at Oxford University in England and I also attended the University in Aix-en-Provence, France during my junior year of college. Ultimately, I received a degree in French Language/Culture and Political Science from San Francisco State University.

Since my graduation from SFSU, I have traveled in Europe with my husband, Bill. I also have had the opportunity to travel to Israel with Reverend Christopher Bennett, Bishop McGrath and other Catholic pilgrims. This will be my first immersion trip, but I am not a stranger to serving others. Our parish cooked and served meals for homeless shelters and Bill and I participated in this activity. I worked at a credit union for 16 years and it was involved in several community programs, which included service to Sacred Heart Community Center, Relay For Life and The Giving Tree (to name a few). Bill and I volunteered at the Sacred Heart Community Center on behalf of the credit union. I am also a Cursillista and I have been part of a Cursillo team on two occasions. During my years at the credit union I was the Financial Accountant.  I retired this year on March 1st. I like to crossstitch and eventually I hope to take some art classes and voice lessons. I am going on this trip because I believe that God has called us to do this. Out of nowhere, we received a large dividend from one of our investments at about the same time Anne Maloney mentioned this journey to my husband. I have never served people in another country. I have always been a visitor. It must be time to give back.


Bill Perry: I currently live in San Jose. I am a Bay Area native growing up in Redwood City and Palo Alto. I have travelled with my wife on our honeymoon to Europe visiting England, France, Italy, Austria, Switzerland and the Netherlands. We went to Italy with Father George Aranha in 2007 visiting Rome, Florence, Pisa and Venice with a side trip to France. I went on an immersion trip with Deacon Steve Herrera in 2008 to Puebla, Mexico, helping in the community garden and after school programs. I also was able to spend a couple of nights with a family. I am big sports fan, all the local teams. I enjoy gypsy jazz. I love reading and books. I am currently semi-retired. I have a part time job as an IT Auditor. I am very involved at the Church of the Transfiguration as social justice coordinator, Eucharistic minister and I am a writer of weekly bulletin reflections. I am a member of the Global Solidarity Team at the diocese and a Fair Trade Ambassador with Anne Maloney. Together we promote and make the parishioners and clergy aware of Fair Trade as a way of confronting poverty in the world through our purchases. I am a member of the California People of Faith Against the Death Penalty and a pen pal of a prisoner on death row at San Quentin which included a visit to him last year. The reason I am interested in going on this trip is that it is a way of putting myself in the shoes of those I serve.


Nicholas Altabet: Originally from Saratoga, CA, I have lived the past four years in San Luis Obispo. When this trip starts, I will be celebrating my brand new status as a college grad with a BS degree in Finance from Cal Poly, SLO. While a high school student at The King’s Academy in Sunnyvale, I participated in four cross-cultural immersion trips, including three annual service trips to Mexico and one to San Diego. In Mexico, I worked as part of a team that built homes from the ground up for disadvantaged Mexican families. The families, many of whom have multiple children and several generations of relatives living together, were struggling to stay warm and dry in small trailers or shacks with no electricity. We frequently built alongside the Mexican family members. While we were aiming to make a difference spiritually and physically for these family members, we ultimately found that the beneficiaries of our service had touched us in ways more profound. In San Diego I worked as a camp counselor for elementary school-aged children from an African refugee camp. During my free time, I enjoy hiking, camping, skiing, and hanging out with friends and family. I will travel to Ecuador directly from a trip to Costa Rica with my girlfriend Sarah. Shortly after returning from Ecuador, I am scheduled to start working full time in a finance position at Styker, a medical device company in Fremont, CA.

Please continue to hold the travelers in your prayers!

This Post Has 2 Comments
  1. This group blows my mind away when I read of their joy in serving others, their commitment to making the world better and the delight in being together…family and always welcoming. I know several of the group and am especially impressed with Associate Carmella who uses her “retired” energy to gather others for her third trip!!! Fr. Halligan and Miquel…..move over, as here is a woman who climbs mountains
    for the betterment of our world! Muchas Gracias!

  2. What a fantastic group! Look forward to you blog entries and to your return and hearing your great stories. Thanks for your dedication and service.

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