Let’s face it, sometimes teenagers can be takers. But there is a program at Father Gabriel Richard that stresses the gift of giving that teenagers possess if they need a little push.
It’s called Sophomore Service, and it is a Theology class that entails 60-70 sophomores going into the community once a week for an entire semester to perform service – whether it be helping the disabled, underprivileged, or senior citizens. Sometimes it is a group of sophomores going into a classroom of elementary kids and just reading to them.
The gift of giving. It’s a beautiful thing.
“We have some amazing kids at our school, and this class just puts it in their heart to do service,” said Bradley Stalder, who teaches the Sophomore Service class and coordinates the service trips.
It is no coincidence that the 42 hours of community service is mandated in the students’ sophomore year, according to Stalder. This is in addition to the 12 hours that every student at Father Gabriel is required to complete each year.
“I like to say that sophomore year can be the year of the ‘wise fool,’” said Stalder. “It can be a transition from silliness to wisdom, and Sophomore Service enhances that process.
“It’s remarkable. You can see the transition happen as the students go out into the community and then come back into the classroom and talk about their experiences.”
The students are assigned one location to visit each week. They don’t rotate, so they are able to build relationships.
St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic School and St. Francis of Assisi School are just two of the beneficiaries of the FGR sophomores’ efforts. Every week, the sophomores go into the elementary and middle school classrooms and mentor, whether it be just discussing issues or reading books.
Caroline Bodary, 16, fulfills her community service at St. Thomas, doing most of her work in the Kindergarten and preschool level.
“I love helping the preschool teacher take care of the little kids,” said Bodary, who works at St. Thomas for three hours every Tuesday. “They have short attention spans, so I just kind of help them pay attention. I help get them together before recess and lunch.
“They’re really sweet kids. I have a little sister of my own, she’s 3, so I understand them pretty well. It’s not too hard for me, I really enjoy working with them.”
Some of the sophomores visit Glacier Hills Senior Living Community and perform duties such as delivering mail. One of the favorite parts of the visits for the girls, according to Stalder, is painting the female residents’ nails.
ArborWoman, a pregnancy-option counseling center, is another beneficiary. Students help organize and package supplies for pregnant clients, whether it be diapers, formula or blankets.
“It’s all about giving, no matter what the outlet,” Stalder said. “Some students understand that right away, and some of them it takes a little longer. But eventually, they all seem to understand how important it is to give to others.”
Christopher Putlock, 16, performs his service at Huron Valley PACE, an assisted-living facility in Ypsilanti Township. He has developed a relationship that grows stronger each week with a mentally and physically disabled man in his 60s.
“It really is fascinating for me,” Putlock said. “He is a war veteran, and he tells me stories from a perspective I never would have heard. He tells me to go to college.
“I mean, the only experience I had with someone that age before was my grandparents. He gives me a lot of life-experience tips.”
The two new friends play board games, crossword puzzles and cards. They play Kings in the Corner and Rummy, two card games Putlock didn’t know how to play before the resident showed him the ropes.
“I probably would have wanted to go to a school to do my service if I would have chosen,” Putlock said. “But I’m so glad it worked out this way. I left it up to the Holy Spirit, and now I understand it doesn’t matter where you go, just go and serve.”
Bodary agrees with her classmate.
“You just have to go into it with an open mind, an open heart,” she said. “You have to serve for the person you’re serving, not for yourself.”