January 29, 2010

2010 Catholic Schools Week Supplement

A special connection: Faith guides students’ efforts to make a difference

Alexandra Young and her seventh-grade classmates at St. Bartholomew School in Columbus stuff Christmas stockings for American soldiers in Afghanistan. (Submitted photo)

Alexandra Young and her seventh-grade classmates at St. Bartholomew School in Columbus stuff Christmas stockings for American soldiers in Afghanistan. (Submitted photo)

By John Shaughnessy

The images range from fun to heartwarming.

They also offer connections that spread from the heroics of Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning to the horror of earthquake-devastated Haiti.

In all the images, there is this constant—the way that Catholic school students across the archdiocese strive to make a difference in their communities and the world.

Here is a look at five special efforts that show that service is a way of life and an expression of faith for Catholic school students.

‘Hula Hoops for Haiti’

The students at Sacred Heart School in Jeffersonville had already made a commitment to Haiti before the Jan. 12 earthquake that devastated that country and killed about 200,000 people.

“Our school theme this year is ‘Sacred Heart School Makes a World of Difference,’ and we have concentrated our efforts on ways that we can help our sister parish, St. Raphael, in Haiti,” said Becky Spitznagel, the school’s principal. “A missionary team from Sacred Heart, including our pastor, Father Tom Clegg, traveled to Haiti this past October. After they came back, we talked about the needs of the people there.”

At the time, the school community decided to raise $2,600 to build a home for a family in Haiti. During Advent, students did jobs in their neighborhoods, earning about $1,000 for the home. They planned to raise the additional money during Catholic Schools Week—a time when the school traditionally does a fun event to help a serious cause.

“We decided we would hold a ‘Hula Hoops for Haiti’ event,” Spitznagel said. “The students will take part in hula hoop activities in the gym and collect donations for their efforts. At the end of the hula hoop activities, Father Tom has agreed to be a human ring-toss. For every five dollars in donations that a student collects, he or she will get a chance to toss a hula hoop over Father Tom. The top three students to get the most hula hoops around him will get to go out to eat lunch with Father Tom.”

While the event is fun, the focus is serious following the earthquake.

“The recent tragic events in Haiti have altered our focus,” Spitznagel said. “We plan to send the money already collected to aid in the earthquake relief efforts.”

A common thread of dedication

There was one common thread that weaved its way through the terrific effort by the sixth- and seventh-grade students at St. Bartholomew School in Columbus.

The students wanted to let a unit of American soldiers serving in Afghanistan know how much their dedication meant to them.

“One of our students has an uncle serving in Afghanistan,” said Kathy Schubel, the school’s principal. “So the students decided to send them stockings for Christmas. The students sewed the stockings themselves. They brought in sewing machines and did some appliqués on the stockings—stars and hearts. Most of them had never done sewing or hand-stitching before. They also did different things to raise money so they could fill the stockings.”

The project came to a peak in early December when the students mailed the stockings, which they had stuffed with small gifts that included writing materials and personal hygiene items.

“The uncle sent his nephew pictures of the soldiers receiving the stockings,” Schubel said. “The students were so proud.”

‘The Wood Chop’

Father Aaron Jenkins imagines the unusual service trip as a perfect way to teach high school students about the Catholic history of Indiana and to show them a different way to help the poor.

On the weekend of Feb. 12-14, the chaplain of Father Thomas Scecina Memorial High School in Indianapolis plans to lead about 30 students on a journey to southern Indiana and Saint Meinrad Archabbey.

“I’m taking a group of students down there for what they call ‘The Wood Chop,’ ” Father Jenkins said. “Those counties down there are among the poorest in the state, and many of the people down there heat their homes with wood. Cutting and gathering wood is a way of providing heat for the poor in that area. It’s a way for our students to get to see a different picture of the poor.”

Father Jenkins also hopes that staying at the monastery for three days will also give the students an insight into a community built upon faith.

“It’s a way to connect them with the Catholic history of Indiana and give them an experience of a faith-filled community of monks who have been living and praying there for more than 150 years.”

A day to remember and savor

Tyler Mayer didn’t know what to expect when he organized a service day that sent 680 students and 115 adults to help nearly 40 social service agencies and community organizations across Indianapolis.

As the director of campus ministry at Bishop Chatard High School in Indianapolis, Mayer hoped the day would be a “catalyst for students to realize, even though they are young, that they have the ability to cause great change in a world that needs it so desperately.”

So on Oct. 28, students, teachers, staff members and parents from Bishop Chatard took assignments that led them to help at nursing homes, child care centers, food banks for the poor and other sites.

“Just hearing the students talk about their experiences was real neat,” Mayer noted. “Some kids had to build a brick wall, others had to move dirt, but no one complained. They knew they were there to help. It gave them a better perspective of the need that is out there.”

It also gave the places and people they helped a better understanding of teenagers today.

“The agencies were all thankful,” Mayer said. “One of the biggest comments I got from them was their surprise [about] the quality of students we brought them. They weren’t sure how teenagers would respond. It’s cool the way they did respond. It was inspirational to see.”

A special connection

The project bears the name of Peyton Manning.

Just like a pass from Manning to Indianapolis Colts’ tight end Dallas Clark, the connection has been a good one between the Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital at St. Vincent Hosptial in Indianapolis and Pope John XXIII School in Madison.

“The hospital has a program where they send us hospital bracelets with the names of the patients there and then we pray for them every day,” said Jill Mires, the principal of Pope John XXIII School, which has about 260 students from preschool to sixth grade.

The program has been a perfect way for Mires to introduce the young students to the importance of being there for others in need.

“The school children have really connected with it,” she said. “It’s been neat for us both spiritually and from a service-oriented standpoint. It’s special to hear the children telling their parents about the child and their illness, and that they’re praying for them to heal.” †

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