Living a Life of Actions Not Words: Holy Child's Christian Service Program
The Christian Service Program at Holy Child seeks to form students who live out our motto: “Actions Not Words.” This comprehensive program allows all grade levels to participate in service and reflection as a community. With the many changes and challenges of this year, we recommitted to rolling out this program this school year. Over the past several months, our Holy Child community has proven that a heart of service in action runs through the soul of the school.
This program supports our Holy Child Network goals, pointing to the values of justice, peace, compassion, and a dynamic faith community. Students found ways to serve others in our wider community and to be innovative with new service opportunities while encountering people beyond their current circles of relationships. Service has always been integrated into the traditions and opportunities as a school, but through this program, students have the added ability to discover how they can best put their individual gifts and talents into action.
The theme of this first year of the program has been “pivoting.” The ever-changing landscape of the pandemic meant a need to adapt to the changing needs and availability organizations had during this year. That has allowed us to rethink previous partnerships and develop new partnerships as well. In this year of pivoting, students have learned lessons in how to remain flexible, how to rethink situations, and how to prioritize the things that matter to them the most. Two hallmark programs students were involved in excellently highlight these lessons learned.
The first program was a new relationship formed with the nonprofit Empowering the Ages. Through their Sharing Smiles program, students created artwork and wrote inspiring poems and letters for senior citizens experiencing isolation. This then evolved into the Crossing Paths program that Holy Child students piloted over the summer and into the fall semester. Eight students met twice weekly with a group of seniors at the Byron House Assisted Living facility. The students learned about intergenerational communication and planned discussion topics in order to have fruitful conversations each time. One student who was part of this pilot group was Caroline. Caroline shared this about her experience: “Every week I began to look forward to my virtual Zoom meeting. Our conversations have varied quite
a bit over these past few weeks, but every week I leave with more knowledge than I had before. This program has truly opened my eyes to the other side of my community I never really had the opportunity to communicate with before. I see this program as an opportunity to fill a social gap and discourage the negative stereotypes among generations, as well as build relationships and learn new things.”
This experience of meeting and sharing of themselves has been a light during times of sadness for not only the residents at Byron House, but also for the students. The students have been given a tangible way to connect with others they likely would not have been able to during a time so many people feel isolated from family and friends. As a staff member who has the honor of sitting in on these conversations, I have had a firsthand view of how the students have grown in their connections and concern for the elderly in our community. This program has since grown to two other cohorts of students and seniors, growing conversation and understanding across generations. The success of this program has allowed the Crossing Paths program to expand to other local schools.
The other hallmark program is a shift from a traditional service opportunity that has taken place for many years, Camp Cornelia. Camp Cornelia would normally be a 4-day student teaching experience in New York City, for two Holy Child students to mentor and teach reading and math skills to students at the Cornelia Connelly Center. Cornelia Connelly Center (CCC) champions girls at risk, empowering them to realize their full potential. That service opportunity of many years had to be reworked to fit the current landscape. Instead of a four day experience, four students from each Holy Child Network school participated in mentoring sessions over the month of August. Student leaders met three times a week to teach short lessons in math, geography, and character building. During this short time, student leaders were able to grow as mentors and guides to the students at the Cornelia Connelly Center. Because of the success of the summer program, it has since grown into what is now the CCC Virtual Mentoring program. The student leaders are able to continue to cultivate relationships with the Cornelia Connelly Center students each week through lessons and activities that student leaders prepare in advance. Once again, I have the honor of watching our students rise to the occasion and give of themselves in new ways. They have grown in their ability to lead discussions and draw out the best of the young girls they mentor each week.
The future of the Christian Service Program is bright as long as we have young women willing to be flexible, uplifting, and open to new opportunities to share their gifts with those in need. Both of these programs showcase the potential technology and innovation have in providing a connection to those who may otherwise be inaccessible to students. I look forward to witnessing the lasting changes this program will make in the lives of our students.
Written by: Ogechi Akalegbere, Christian Service Coordinator