PALM BEACH | Pope Francis once said, “The world tells us to seek success, power and money; God tells us to seek humility, service and love.”
Catholic school students take that message to heart as they discover ways to help people in need. From painting churches, to serving meals at fundraisers. From visiting the vulnerable to participating in programs for non-profits.
The Florida Catholic spoke with some graduates of the Diocese of Palm Beach’s Catholic high schools about service projects, including Hayley Peper. During Christmas break 2020, the class of 2022 at John Carroll High School in Fort Pierce hosted a toy drive to benefit the Boys and Girls Club of St. Lucie County. Because of COVID-19 restrictions, the future psychology major at Florida State University used social media platforms to spread her charity’s mission. Through Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook and Venmo members of the community donated more than $1,500.
“This money helped me make numerous runs to toy and clothing stores to provide 10 families with a joyous Christmas,” Hayley said in an email to the Florida Catholic.
This success ignited a bigger idea. Less than six months later, Hayley created Give, a nonprofit organization driven to help more kids in the area. “I believe each child in this world has a shot to be great, but sometimes they need a little help from their community to get there.”
Volunteer efforts by Raimundo Lopez, another John Carroll graduate, show how small-scale projects are just as important as larger one. He volunteered at a United Against Poverty senior retreat earlier this year. His roles varied from organizing shelves to bagging groceries for customers.
“(I learned) giving up my time and volunteering in charity projects can have a huge impact on a small community,” said the digital art/animation major at Indian State River College. “Being in charity projects affects not only my community but myself because I gave up my time to serve the Lord’s people.”
Christian Azqueta, a member of the class of 2022 at Cardinal Newman High School in West Palm Beach, has been serving the community the sixth grade, and he hopes to bring that spirit of to the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana, where he starts this fall. The teen sees his volunteer efforts as a learning experience and a way to give back. When he sold raffle tickets and offered production design for a holiday bazaar at New Hope Charities, Christian learned food insecurity in his own back yard. “Considering how much of the world’s vegetables come from our county and the surrounding areas. Just seeing how bad people’s situation can be when they don’t know where their next meal is coming from,” the finance major said. “It was an eye-opening experience.”
Another learning experience came when he volunteered at Fresh Rx. During an event, profits benefitted delivery services of organic foods to Jupiter Medical cancer patients.
“It was a very cool experience (because I learned) how diet can affect your overall health,” he said. “Seeing cancer patients feel better because of their food and how foods can be medicine.”
Christian has served as an extraordinary minister of the Eucharist since the ninth grade. In that role he has brought the Eucharist to the homebound and those in nursing homes. Seeing “how much joy” people display as he delivers the Eucharist, something they would not receive otherwise, has reassures his own faith.
Rachel Gordon, another graduate of John Carroll High School, helmed a large project. After brainstorming ideas with teachers, they decided on a service project that all student government members could participate — the painting the Mt. Zion church. The facelift needed more than just one day to complete.
“We had so much fun working together we wanted to open the opportunity to more people. We decided to open it up to any teachers and students that wanted to join us,” said the University of Florida student. “While painting, I was reminded of all the different service projects I had done over the years. I was reminded of the good and satisfying feelings that surrounded these acts of service. This reaffirmed my belief that I have a desire and passion to help others. … Giving Mt. Zion a facelift with some paint was a great opportunity to truly emphasize the beauty of God’s creation all around us. I feel so blessed by God to be surrounded by such good people that I also want to make a difference in this world.”
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