January 27, 2017

2017 Catholic Schools Week Supplement

Students live out value of helping others in profound ways

Scores of friendship bracelets in the foreground are ready to be shipped to the international nonprofit Unbound while their creator, Cathedral High School senior Rachel Kent of Indianapolis, makes another to add to the stack. For each bracelet she sells, Rachel makes one for Unbound to give to an impoverished child in a foreign country, and gives all proceeds to the layCatholic founded organization. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

Scores of friendship bracelets in the foreground are ready to be shipped to the international nonprofit Unbound while their creator, Cathedral High School senior Rachel Kent of Indianapolis, makes another to add to the stack. For each bracelet she sells, Rachel makes one for Unbound to give to an impoverished child in a foreign country, and gives all proceeds to the lay‑Catholic founded organization. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

By Natalie Hoefer

Serving others, helping those less fortunate, performing acts of mercy—all are actions and values each Christian is called to emulate. Catholic schools support and nurture these traits.

Some students live out such charity in bold and heartwarming ways. Here are the stories of two such students—Olivia Dudas, a fifth-grade student at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton School in Richmond, whose “Traveling Bags of Kindness” project made national news; and Rachel Kent, a senior at Cathedral High School in Indianapolis, whose fundraising efforts for the nonprofit Unbound help those in need in 20 countries around the world.

‘When serving others and passions intersect’

When Rachel Kent heard about Unbound, a lay Catholic-founded nonprofit organization working in

20 countries to overcome poverty, she knew she wanted to participate in their sponsor-a-child program.

But once the then-sophomore at Cathedral High School in Indianapolis was matched with teenaged Divya in India, she wanted to do more.

“Helping Divya was great, but there are so many kids in the program who don’t have sponsors,” says Rachel, now 17 and a senior. “I wanted to help them, but wasn’t able to financially.”

So she decided to turn a hobby she’s passionate about into a way to raise money for Unbound.

“I learned to make friendship bracelets at camp, I think it must have been like eight years ago,” says Rachel. “I kept making them, and I got pretty good. People would tell me, ‘You should sell those!’ and I’d say, ‘No, they’re friendship bracelets. You don’t sell friendship!’ But I thought this cause was good enough to sell the bracelets.”

In her junior year, Rachel started an Etsy webpage called Knot Your Average Bracelets (KYABracelets). For $7, she makes a bracelet for the purchaser and one for Unbound to give to a child. All proceeds go to the organization.

Each bracelet takes about two hours to make, says Rachel.

“The other day I was making a lot of bracelets and I was like, ‘Oh, man! This is a lot!’ ” she admits. “But then I thought, it’s a labor of love. … I hope that these kids, even though they might not fully know or fully understand what went into the bracelets, that they still know that they’re important and loved.

“And the money is cool. It’s awesome that I’m able to create something that is larger than I, or larger than I could do by myself.”

As of early January, Rachel had made 200 bracelets and raised more than $1,400, including some donations.

“I want all of the money to go to Unbound, so I buy my own supplies,” she says. “Sometimes I’m faced with, ‘Do I buy this new shirt, or do I buy the bracelet string?’ It’s what’s more important. If it makes you a bit uncomfortable, I would say that’s a good thing, because you’re giving more of yourself.”

The member of Christ the King Parish in Indianapolis says the project was “a leap of faith to start.

“But I think you have to tell yourself, ‘I’m going to do this.’ God calls us to serve other people and to help the less fortunate, especially those most in need.

“And [making friendship bracelets] is something I love to do. It’s one of my passions. I think when serving others and your passions intersect, that’s kind of like you found your niche.”

‘It just matters what’s in your heart’

That 10-year-old Olivia Dudas was voluntarily watching a televised segment on kindness speaks to her tendency toward generosity. Her reaction to the segment says even more.

“The [Indiana] Pacers were at Riley Children’s Hospital,” recalls the fifth-grade student of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton School in Richmond. “They were taking pictures with patients and signing autographs. The kids were smiling. One of the nurses said that they don’t regularly smile. It just popped into my head—I want to do that in Richmond.”

Olivia’s mother Andrea Dudas says her daughter “went upstairs, and 15-20 minutes later she sent me a text” with a plan she called the “The Traveling Bags of Kindness.”

The idea was to purchase a few large gift bags, pass them on to family and friends to add an item a child would like, then for the bag to be passed on to another person, and so on. The filled bags were then delivered to Genesis Women’s Shelter in Richmond and Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health in Indianapolis.

The project started with three bags one week before Thanksgiving. By Dec. 20 they had traveled to Ohio, Delaware, Georgia and Florida, and multiplied from three bags to 63, plus diapers, two scooters and three boxes of books.

The story of Olivia’s project was picked up by the Associated Press and spread nationally. A member of “The Today Show” staff contacted Andrea to let her know they were discussing the possibility of including Olivia’s story on a segment they were planning on kindness.

Olivia is “very empathetic,” says Dudas. “She has a gigantic heart, always has.”

Olivia, now 11, acknowledges that giving “makes others happy.” But more importantly, she adds, “I feel like I should do it. Christ died on the cross for us. I [can] pay him back and pay it forward.”

While Olivia and her mother are not Catholic—they attend First Baptist Church in Richmond—Andrea says she “knew when Olivia was born that I wanted her to go to Seton.

“Going to Seton has helped nurture that [giving] side of her. It’s not only the curriculum—they teach love and understanding” at Seton, she says.

And now Olivia is seeking her classmates’ help in her next project: delivering 1,000 homemade Valentines to the residents of all the nursing homes in Richmond.

The idea started when Elizabeth Higgins Clark, actress and founder of the #KeepAmericaKind project, contacted Olivia. She encouraged the girl to continue her acts of kindness into 2017, and said to help, she would send Olivia Valentine’s cards to hand out.

“I decided that I want to step it up and go to every nursing home in Richmond,” says Olivia, whose great-grandmother resides in a Richmond nursing home. “That’s 10, and we have to make over 1,000 Valentines.”

She is enlisting the help of her classmates—and numerous other volunteers—to make and personally deliver the Valentines to each resident. She is also making boxes of treats for the staff of each nursing home.

Dudas posted the project on Facebook.

“It’s gone crazy,” she says. As of Jan. 18, she had homemade Valentines coming from California, Wisconsin, Texas and even Canada.

When asked what advice she had for those who want to help others, Olivia was full of encouragement.

“You can do anything, no matter what your age,” she says. “It just matters what’s in your heart.”

Those interested in contributing a handmade Valentine to Olivia’s latest project may send them to RMD-Patti Insurance Agency, Attn: Andrea Dudas, 36 South Ninth St., Richmond, IN 47374. Valentines must be received by Feb. 10. If more than 1,000 Valentines are received, the additional ones will be delivered to patients at Riley Hospital for Children. †

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