December 18, 2020

Volunteer seeks to create and capture a child’s joy

By John Shaughnessy

John SmithJohn Smith has dedicated a lot of time and energy through the years in taking countless photographs of young people in action in sports and theater at Roncalli High School and St. Mark the Evangelist School, both in Indianapolis—photographs he makes available to families for free.

“I love seeing the kids smile,” says Smith, a 2020 recipient of the St. John Bosco Award, the highest honor the archdiocese’s Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) gives a volunteer. “I try to take unposed photos, just when they’re natural, when you can see the joy on their face.”

Still, the best image that Smith shares wasn’t captured on his camera. Instead, it’s in his mind, and he becomes emotional when he describes one of his favorite moments in coaching at St. Mark, where he has guided children in football, wrestling, basketball and track.

“I was coaching football, and one of the kids didn’t play a lot. He never had played football before, but he wanted to play. We were in a playoff game and we were winning, but it was a close game—six points. We could lose the game. I put him in at nose tackle, right over the center. And he jumped offside. I’m thinking, ‘Oh, no, is this going to cost us?’

“But he needs to play. He needs to have his moment. And the next play he did. He recovered a fumble, and we were able to run out the clock and win the game.”

It’s one of those moments that’s insightful about a person—in this case, Smith as a coach.

“I had a really good time when I played sports,” says the father of three grown children. “I encouraged my kids to be involved in as many CYO sports as they could. Sports are good for you. They teach discipline, teamwork and how you need to put in the work to improve. You learn to lose with grace. You learn to win with humility.”

Smith has also learned that he has needed the support of other people to put him in a position to impact the lives of youths. He credits the late Patrick Kennedy, his boss who died of COVID-19 earlier this year, for letting him adjust his schedule to coach, take photos and help lead a Boy Scouts troop.

Smith also sees all those volunteer efforts as a reflection of his desire to live his Catholic faith.

“I wasn’t raised Catholic. I chose to be Catholic. I went through RCIA [Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults]. I felt like God gave me this opportunity, and I needed to do something with it.

“I’ve tried to give my time and whatever talent I have as a coach and a photographer. I felt I had the time to give these kids. That’s what motivated me.” †

 

Related story: CYO presents the St. John Bosco Medal, it’s highest honor, to five individuals

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