“We had this awesome house reunion on Zoom,” says Iona (née Hughan) Popa, who was a member of ACE 21 in Tampa. “Those relationships… I know that ACE has deeply influenced who I am.”
“ACE is the best decision I ever made,” says her former housemate Amanda Hamilton. “It has brought me everything that I have now. Truly. I made some amazing friends, I found my vocation as a teacher, and I just keep finding more things to be passionate about in teaching. I really attribute all of that to the ACE program.”
Along with teacher formation and spiritual growth, the third pillar of the ACE program is community.
“ACE 21 Tampa was a self-contained house, just the four of us for two years,” says Iona. Five years later, she, Amanda, Vincent Burns, and Mike Comuniello are all still staying in touch—their group text is six years strong and counting—and now during the Covid-19 pandemic, texts have given way to virtual visits.
ACE relationships were cemented through a cherished house tradition. “We used to have these amazing ACE dinners,” says Iona. The group divided up the week, and each person was assigned their own school night. “They became central anchors in the day: good conversations that would often go much longer than they needed to. The idea that we were cooking for one another and then we’d all clean-up together. I’ve missed that.”
“We felt really fortunate that we all got along really well and just loved each other,” said Amanda. “I don’t know how I would’ve learned to be a teacher without them. They were so meaningful to me. It was almost like meditating for us. I could be Amanda for 30 minutes instead of Ms. Hamilton that I’d been all day. It was the way we were there for each other.”
Whether it was Mike’s handmade Stromboli, Vincent’s tortellini soup, or Iona’s mishap with the vermouth and a temperamental stove that created her now infamous “fireball salmon,” the community meals brought the house together in mission.
“Even on our worst days, there was so much joy that could come out of sharing experiences. Family din–uh, community dinner,” Iona corrects herself, then thinks better of it. “No, family dinner. That’s what it was! No matter what happened during the day—like ACE in your life—there was a constant support. The community dinners and the community prayer. They were rocks you could rely on no matter what.”
Iona says sharing the dinners—and legendary desserts from the ice cream parlor around the corner—was a life practice that grew from ACE. “A lot of communities have been doing these reunions. That notion of being in community through great conversation and shared meals,” she says. “That’s how our Zoom call felt… like a community dinner from afar.”
Learn more about the experience of an ACE Teacher at ace.nd.edu/teach.