AUBURN – Packing the school bus, it looked a lot like any other senior class trip. Tons of snacks. Tents and sleeping bags. Games for the road.

But for the 24 St. Dominic Regional High School seniors, the two-week excursion will be more than a field trip for spring break.

It’s a mission trip to help one of the poorest communities in the country.

“I can’t wait,” said 17-year-old Hannah Wiley of Augusta, a student leader for the trip. “I never really thought it would come.”

For 11 years, St. Dom’s seniors have made a mission trip to Mound Bayou, Miss. Located in the deep South, the community is known for its extreme poverty. Children are often hungry. Many of the houses are little more than shacks.

Former St. Dom’s Principal Michael Welch helped start the mission trips. He’d worked at a school in Mississippi and knew the area could use some help.

Welch stayed involved in the trips until his death from cancer in 2006.

At the beginning, only a handful of seniors participated. Agreeing to go meant sleeping in tents, forgoing cell phones and other luxuries and spending a spring week wielding hammers and paintbrushes. It also meant fundraising for nearly a year.

But over the years, more and more students signed up. Now about 40 percent of seniors go.

“It’s a trip of a lifetime,” said math teacher Kathy Little, who’s been involved for nine years. “We have so much to offer them (in Mound Bayou), but we’ll take so much from them.”

On Thursday, 24 of this year’s 53 seniors will board a school bus for the three-day road trip to Mississippi. Thirteen chaperones will go with them, toting much of the group’s supplies in three rented vans.

The students will spend a week in Mound Bayou, where the St. Gabriel Mercy Center has gathered a six-page list of projects for them. Some of the projects are basic, such as painting a house. Others, such as shingling a roof, require greater skills. The students will assess the projects when they get there.

This year’s group raised $47,000 for the trip. That money will pay for their expenses, plus tools and construction supplies they’ll need in Mississippi and an $8,500 donation to the St. Gabriel Mercy Center, their host. Often, seniors also end up giving a hat, a pair of sneakers or other personal possessions to the kids there.

“I think our whole group will learn a lot,” Wiley said.

Her older brother went last year. The planning for her class began soon after her brother’s class got back. She’s been looking forward to it all year.

So has the mission trip’s other student leader, 17-year-old Matt Barrett of Lewiston. His older brother went last year, too,

“You feel blessed just to have a meal because some people there don’t,” he said.

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