January 24, 2020

Catholic School Week Supplement

Teacher passes love for service and Haiti on to students

Chris Schwartz, a member of St. Bartholomew Parish in Columbus and middle school religion teacher at the parish’s school, poses with Louvenyz Bouchette in 2016 during a mission trip to Limonade, Haiti. (Submitted photo)

Chris Schwartz, a member of St. Bartholomew Parish in Columbus and middle school religion teacher at the parish’s school, poses with Louvenyz Bouchette in 2016 during a mission trip to Limonade, Haiti. (Submitted photo)

By Natalie Hoefer

Even as a child, Chris Schwartz believed she had “a servant’s heart.”

Now, as the 6th-8th grade religion teacher for St. Bartholomew School in Colunbus, Schwartz is passing on to her students this value of serving.

The students have embraced it—as well as her passion for those who live in the poverty-stricken country of Haiti. It’s a love that developed through Schwartz’s involvement with St. Bartholomew Parish’s twinning relationship with St. Anne Parish in Limonade, Haiti.

“They live in one of the poorest areas in the western hemisphere,” she notes. “Yet they’re so full of joy and love. We all feel that void sometimes, and they know how to fill it with God.”

‘Education is the power out of poverty’

Schwartz, a nearly-lifelong member of St. Bartholomew Parish and a graduate of its school, became involved with the parish’s Friends of Haiti (FOH) mission in the 2000s, when she served as the faith community’s assistant—and then later interim—youth minister.

“Every year [the youths] take a Haiti mission,” she explains. “I had the blessing of taking a youth group to Haiti for the first time in 2010.”

Since then, she has returned to the country nine additional times. And each time she goes, says Schwartz, “I show [the religion students] pictures, answer their questions. I really focus on the missionary heart in this [class]room.”

While on mission, she’s served in many roles—construction worker, gravel-layer, health care assistant and teacher, to name just a few.

But there are plenty of ways Schwartz helps stateside, too. Through the years she has worked on and raised money for numerous FOH projects.

She currently serves as the ministry’s school representative, finding ways for the students to support the mission and help the children of Limonade attend school.

She also serves on the ministry’s committee supporting an adult literacy program in Haiti. Schwartz assists with and participates in annual fundraising events to support the program, and encourages her students to volunteer, too.

“Education is the power out of poverty,” she says. “It’s just as important for the adults to learn to read and write as it is for the children.”

‘Raising money for a purpose’

Of course, being well-fed and having a source of income are important to overcoming poverty as well. A flood in Limonade in late 2016 threatened both of those components, sweeping away gardens and livestock like cows, goats and chickens.

So Schwartz and other FOH members came up with the “Christmas Chicken Challenge.”

“The idea was to have people donate $10 to buy a chicken” from non-affected areas of the country and in the neighboring Dominican Republic,” she explains. “The goal was to buy enough so each child at the school [in Limonade] could bring a chicken home to their family.

“The kids [at St. Bartholomew] took initiative and wanted to help. They got into it, knowing they were not just raising money, but money for a purpose.”

Through their efforts, enough money was raised to provide not one but two chickens per child—plus one for each teacher and staff member at the school.

“The kids love to hear the stories,” says Schwartz of the impact the project made. “We learned that two children, it’s now their business to feed the chickens and raise money for their family. These kids are providing for their family. I get so emotional thinking about it,” she says, pausing to hold back tears.

And her students don’t just help the children of Haiti when natural disasters strike. Each of Schwartz’s 6th-8th grade classes helps pay the tuition for a child of Limonade to attend school.

“I always tell the kids that we need to use our gifts and talents to help others,” she says. “Well, they turned that around and applied it to me!

“I had told them that I do photography on the side. So they said, ‘Well,

Mrs. Schwartz, why don’t we use your gift and raise funds. You take portraits and we’ll create Christmas cards.’ ”

She and the students created different backdrops. Then with the students helping as “elves,” Schwartz offered 15-minute time slots for parishioners to take their family Christmas photo for a donation.

“All the money goes to the Haiti students, and extra money goes to other Haiti programs,” she explains. “It’s been very successful.”

‘These are our brothers and sisters’

When it comes to helping the Haitians of St. Anne Parish and Limonade, there is so much more involved than raising money or serving on a mission trip.

“We talk a lot about giving of our time, how that’s a big gift you can give—that, and love,” says Schwartz. “And I tell them, ‘You can do that right here in school. There are kids right here in front of us who need help and love.’ We sometimes overlook them because they’re just part of our world.”

There are faith lessons and life lessons through serving others that Schwartz hopes her students learn.

“The life lesson is to always try to seek God’s will no matter what,” she explains. “And to learn that they do have something to give. Love is powerful when you allow yourself to be part of it.”

As for the faith lesson, Schwartz says she wants her students to know the importance of reading and memorizing Scripture. But she also wants them to learn that “it’s powerful to live it out,” she says.

“I think we always think someone else is taking care of something. But God gives us opportunities to do something. So often we pray for God to help, and he’s looking down saying, ‘I did—I sent you!’ ”

And in helping, says Schwartz, one of the most valuable lessons is learned: the importance of creating relationships.

“Building up that relationship to really understand and immerse yourself is key,” she explains. “We’re in solidarity, we walk together.

“These are our brother and sisters.” †

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