Students at Marian High School, Mishawaka, couldn’t be found in their classrooms on Oct. 17 because instead of opening their books, they were learning about serving the way Christ calls His children to do: by volunteering for the benefit of others on the fifth annual Knights Service Day.
The students, along with parents and school staff members, served about 50 different organizations in Elkhart and St. Joseph counties, including ADEC; Real Services; St. Augustine Soup Kitchen; Hubbard Hill and St. Paul nursing homes; Hannah’s House; the St. Vincent de Paul Society; The Center for the Homeless; Our Lady of the Road; La Casa de Amistad; and others.
Chris Grossnickle, development associate at Marian, explained how the service day began. Five years ago, as the faculty and staff began planning events for the 50th anniversary of Marian High School, they realized there weren’t many student-focused events. She said the Knights Service Day was a chance “to have the kids go outside the Marian family.”
At first, they concentrated on Catholic organizations like St. Augustine Soup Kitchen, St. Vincent de Paul Society, Catholic Worker House and Marian’s partner schools, but then expanded. Grossnickle said when discussion about the service day began, participants were told to develop a pedagogy, or “a curriculum behind what we were doing — and that’s been our driving force ever since. I love that piece of it. We discussed, ‘Who do we want to affect? Who does Christ want us to affect?’ He tells us the imprisoned, the poor, the hungry, the children, the homeless, (and) the elderly, and we look at those criteria for our service organizations.”
The program is run through the school’s Theology Department, whose faculty talks to the students and explains the difference between direct service — working directly with a person — and indirect service like yardwork or organizing, which might not be as immediately gratifying but are equally important.
Cadence Szajko, the daughter of Eric and Michelle Szajko and a parishioner at Queen of Peace, Mishawaka, shared her impressions from the service experience. She worked with Real Services, going out to a homebound woman’s home to clean up her yard, rake leaves and trim bushes. In the past she has gone to elementary schools to help kindergartners read.
The service day “gives us a good sense of how many people need help, and they love having people out to help them. It gives everyone a sense of how privileged we are, and how underprivileged others are — and that little things make a big difference.”
Aside from the service day, Cadence volunteers at church and at Pet Refuge.
Junior Graham Harding, the son of Gene and Lori and member of College Park Missionary Church in Mishawaka, volunteered at Cultivate Culinary, which has a food rescue program: It reclaims food from events and restaurants and repackages it for the homeless and underprivileged.
Graham said he felt it was important for Marian to have a service day because, “It helps define who we are. We’re a family here and giving back to the community helps annunciate that. It’s the kind of thing Marian does.”
In addition to helping others, Graham it was fun to be able to work alongside fellow students whom he might not otherwise get to know very well.
Bella Ravotta, the daughter of Steve and Colleen, is a senior at Marian. Her family attends St. Joseph Parish. Bella has participated in the Knights Service Day for four years: This year she worked at ADEC, a nonprofit agency for children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, helping with arts and crafts and holding hands with a client. She said ADEC’s clients were excited to have the Marian students there; she was told one person there has asked every single day since last year when the Marian students were coming back.
During her freshman year, Bella recalled that she raked leaves at someone’s house. The appreciation she received “really made an impact on me.”
Bella helps with Special Olympics and coaches outside of her service through Marian. She said the Knights Service Day “teaches us we are here for a reason; we’re here to serve others. That’s what we’re called to do as Catholics and that’s part of our mission. … I’m thankful Marian gave me the opportunity to explore other ways to serve and taught me to pursue volunteerism.”
The first year of the project, Grossnickle heard that Marian choir members were singing at Hubbard Hill nursing home and as they were leaving, a nurse asked if they could sing for a man who was dying and whose family was gathered around him. The choir members sang “Amazing Grace” while the man’s sobbing wife held her husband. The adult daughter of the man told them, “Thank you for singing my dad to heaven.”
‘Learn. Serve. Lead.’
Marian’s slogan is “Learn. Serve. Lead.” and they feel the Knights Service Day fits that slogan. Development Director Alicia Redinger said “it’s all rolled into our mission.”
The school has attempted to connect classes to the service organizations, like having the choir sing at nursing homes or the foods class prepare food to bring to those staying at the Ronald McDonald House.
Grossnickle added that they try to give the students a varied experience during their Marian career and encourage them to be open to God’s call.
“We hope by the time they have four years of service they see the needs in the community, where their work is valued and why it’s important to do what God asks of us,” Redinger said. “We hope it instills a lifelong servant’s heart.”
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