January 23, 2009

Catholic Schools Week Supplement

Snapshots of service: Students’ community efforts touch lives, including their own

Dancing for seven straight hours, 240 students from Bishop Chatard High School in Indianapolis participated in a dance marathon in October of 2008. The school’s annual fundraiser earned more than $36,400 to benefit Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis. (Submitted photo)

Dancing for seven straight hours, 240 students from Bishop Chatard High School in Indianapolis participated in a dance marathon in October of 2008. The school’s annual fundraiser earned more than $36,400 to benefit Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis. (Submitted photo)

By John Shaughnessy

Call them “snapshots of service”—pictures of the remarkable variety of ways that Catholic school students across the archdiocese make a difference in their communities and the world.

Take a look at this photo of some of the 240 students from Bishop Chatard High School in Indianapolis dancing for seven straight hours while raising more than $36,400 for Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis.

And check this snapshot of Zach Hellinger—a freshman at Our Lady of Providence Jr./Sr. High School in Clarksville—whose volunteer efforts help to make life easier for people with disabilities.

You also have to see this photo of Terry Majors interacting with Indiana lawmakers. The sophomore at Providence Cristo Rey High School in Indianapolis is a member of the Indiana Legislative Youth Advisory Council.

And here’s a picture of the students at Roncalli High School in Indianapolis, which was one of six Indiana high schools honored in 2008 for their commitment to community service.

The award from Indiana State University in Terre Haute commended Roncalli for efforts that included collecting 100,000 cans of food, raising $9,000 for homeless people and donating 2,500 toys for children in need.

Service is a way of life—and an expression of faith—for Catholic school students. Just look at these snapshots.

Unleashing the possibilities

Nicole Zapp admits she never felt a real commitment to community service until she drove by the Madison-Jefferson County Animal Shelter with her friend, Katherine Bear, and thought it would be a great place to volunteer.

“Katherine and I stopped in there at the beginning of the summer,” recalls Nicole who, along with Katherine, is a junior at Father Michael Shawe Memorial Jr./Sr. High School in Madison. “We started off walking dogs and playing with them. It was so rewarding. They’re cooped up there every day, and they don’t get out a lot. They were so full of energy.”

Nicole became especially fond of a dog named Chloe, a mix of a Collie and a Labrador retriever.

“I was walking her one day and when I brought her back, a family started looking at her and adopted her. It was so great that she got adopted by a really nice family. Working at the animal shelter made me learn that doing service can be fun. You just have to find what you’re interested in.”

Providing a comfort zone

Before her idea grew into a grand plan that even the Indianapolis Colts embraced, Claire Helmen was just looking for a good way to help small children when they are scared.

“My mom works [in the fight] against domestic violence,” says Claire, 13, a seventh-grade student at St. Thomas Aquinas School in Indianapolis. “We were talking after dinner one night about how we could help kids in traumatic situations. And we came up with blankets. Blankets are a great way to give comfort.”

That conversation has led to “Claire’s Comfort for Kids,” a community service project to put blankets in the hands of patrol officers for the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department—who then give the blankets to children in frightening situations that include fires, automobile accidents and separation from their parents.

Claire received help from the Colts organization, which allowed her to raise funds for her project from fans entering Lucas Oil Stadium for the Nov. 2 game.

“They played the Patriots that day and we got to stand outside, holding up blankets and asking for donations,” Claire says. “We raised about $1,700. All together, we’ve raised about $2,500.”

Distribution of the blankets, which cost about $2 each to make, has already begun to the patrol officers.

“It started out small and it grew into something big,” Claire says. “It shows you’re never too young to get involved and start something.”

Promoting peace and justice

The community of Cardinal Ritter Jr./Sr. High School in Indianapolis wanted to take an active part in supporting a City of Indianapolis initiative called “Peace in the Streets–Stop the Violence.”

So on Nov. 1, 2008, the school once again reached out to its neighboring community with a fall festival of service—an outreach effort that was so successful that school officials have decided to make it a continuing commitment.

“We want to get our students out in the community cleaning vacant lots, painting houses, cutting grass for shut-ins and doing errands for them,” says Paul Lockard, the school’s president. “We want our parents to get involved, too.

‘”We’ve always wanted to be a center of peace and justice through understanding. Being one of the most diverse schools in the area, we can send our kids out and actually be an advocate for diversity. We want to demonstrate that even though there are differences in race and creed, we are all inherently good.”

Planting the seed

As the principal of St. Simon the Apostle School in Indianapolis, Kathy Wright often marvels at the way that simple school lessons can lead to special efforts that change lives.

“Our second-grade classes sold apples to the student body after they did an economics lesson on the apples,” Wright notes. “They secured a $200 loan from Regions Bank, went to the orchard, picked the apples, and sold them for 25 cents to the students during the lunch times. They collected more than $300 after paying their loan back. They decided they wanted to help 27 families [in need] with multiple children.

“In order to have more money, they had a penny [fundraiser] for one week before our Thanksgiving break. They collected more than $1,100, which gave them $1,400 to shop at Wal-Mart for gifts. They were each given $20 and a list of what the child wanted. Then they came back to school and wrapped all the gifts. I think this was an experience that will live with these children for many years.”

Making the extra effort

Eric Nixon keeps a busy schedule as a senior at Father Thomas Scecina Memorial High School in Indianapolis. The 17-year-old youth takes several advanced placement classes, serves as the Student Council treasurer and a school ambassador, and works 20 to 30 hours a week at a grocery store. Still, he made time to lead the canned food drive in November at his school for a simple reason.

“There are so many people in need, it’s incredible,” he says. “The more you can do and give, the better it will be.”

Eric approached the manager at the grocery store where he works about purchasing canned foods at cost. Then he enlisted the help of his fellow students in raising money to pay for the canned foods.

“We improved double-fold our total from last year,” Eric says. “This year, we collected 15,607 cans. I was really excited to see all the people we were able to help.” †

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