April 14th 2016 is a date that the students and faculty of Bishop Luers High School will not soon forget; moreover, the Fort Wayne Community will see that blustery morning as the “red letter” date for the Sodalitas service project. Sodalitas, which translates from Latin to English as “community”, in its most infantile state is a student-led program designed to aid in the development of community in a school setting and to help break down the limiting social barriers students face allowing them to get to know one another’s strengths, personalities, faiths and vulnerabilities.
At the beginning of the year, Megan Ryan (on top of her full faculty responsibilities as a Special Education and Resource teacher) adapted, presented, and spearheaded this onerous operation, calling on nearly 120 peer-nominated student leaders and the entire adult staff for their assistance to create a better school experience for the nearly 600 students in the building. Every other Thursday, students broke from their classrooms and were guided by the student leaders and the staff to help the students realize that they have a community around them which genuinely cares for the spiritual, social and emotional needs of every individual. This was achieved with bi-weekly training and feedback mini-seminars and continuous student provided insights addressing the population we teachers consistently serve through our lessons and leadership. Topics ranged from respect to responsibility, from self-reliance to supportive roles, and from aspects of successful leadership to allowance and humility to be led by others.
The nearly 600 students were grouped together regardless of age, academic abilities, gender, race or religious affiliation, allowing bridges of respect, insight, and advice to be built between all levels of students. And with that alone, this program was a success this year. Teachers and students alike will agree that it did help students get to know one another.
But this Sodalitas program is about more than that. The entire program is centered around service: service to the student him or herself personally, service to fellow student socially, service to the facility which provides an enriching environment for all who pass through its doors, and service to the community surrounding this institution.
On April 14th, nearly 600 members of Bishop Luers community took to the streets providing nearly 2400 hours of volunteered service to those in need in just one morning. From non-profit organizations such as the Christ Child Society to the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo, Lutheran Children’s Hospital to St. Anne’s Nursing Home and literally dozens of other organizations around the greater Fort Wayne area, students spent their time and energy working towards an understanding of what needs the city of Fort Wayne and its inhabitants regularly face.
“The goal of this program was to serve as an opportunity for our students to realize many things about volunteering. One, it helps them understand the great need and appreciation that our community has for people who do provide service,” Ryan said after a successful maiden voyage. “But, it is also about providing the students an opportunity to realize that they have the power to do this on their own. They were the ones who came up with the ideas for where each group could volunteer.” Ryan noted that this was not at all about grades. There was no incentive to partake in this day of service. It was not required for graduation or advancement in any way. This was done “so that students could better understand the world around them and they could use it as a springboard for future independent volunteering opportunities.”
The weeks leading up to the day of service there was obvious apprehension because nothing like this had been done before, at least not to this magnitude for a single school in the Fort Wayne area. But with the tireless efforts of lead organizers Joni Kuhn and Heather Briggs (in addition to Ms. Ryan at the helm) everything clicked into place to give the students of Bishop Luers an amazing opportunity to do some amazing things for some amazing people. Students who visited the Children’s Autism Center and Community Harvest Food Bank were humbled enough to see the blessings of their own lives reflected back to themselves as they provided service and assistance to Fort Waynians who struggle with and adapt daily due to developmental disorders or economically impoverishment.
Many students were moved by the experience, strengthening their understanding of what the mission and motto of Bishop Luers reads across their spirit wear, “We are the Light of the World.” And, it is through those deeds that they make this world a better place. It was not doing these things for the spotlight or notoriety, it was showing that every member of a community regardless of the individual talent can be that light for anyone at any time, that people may see the good that is done and be inspired by it.
Sarah Braun, a senior, commented, “I felt a new appreciation for what it takes to put together a stage for a play, how many hours and how much work it takes.” Braun was actually one of the groups to stay at the school and help construction and decoration for this year’s spring musical. “We were just painting trees, but that was a lot of work!”
Following a prayer service to wrap up the day, students and staff alike commented on the feeling of the sense of accomplishment at what they had done and the appreciation for what they had offered: their time, their compassion, their patience, and their energy. And as we all know, it takes no money. All it takes is consideration for those in need.
“It made me feel amazing because the women at St. John the Baptist couldn’t believe we could get so much done in such a little amount of time.” Tyler Huth, a Luers senior, with a group of 12 schoolmates spent the day moving many things that the service staff and volunteers would have spent weeks working on. “We moved desks, cleared outdated textbooks, and boxes of miscellaneous things out of a classroom.”
The physical exertion may have been great on some of the students, splinters, blisters, or allergies may have bogged some down, but every bit of that was washed away as soon as they came back to the campus. Throughout the halls, students were excitedly talking to one another about what they got to do, or who they had helped, or what they had learned. Many of the students voiced their wishes for more opportunities during the school year to do such projects.
Imagine, if such a small school on the south side of Fort Wayne, rich with an eclectic mix of students of every background imaginable were able to do so much, bring so much hope to those in need, in only a few hours of work with a little sweat, a little sacrifice, and a little selflessness, how much could be done if we all pulled together on a daily basis? How many of us could be the “Light of the World” if we just dared to shine for someone else?
Photo Caption Expanded:
Luers students beam with pride showing their solidarity in their service work at St. Henry’s Parish. These students did a little bit of everything from gardening, painting and cleaning, to reorganizing and moving textbooks and classroom materials.
Front Row: Alley Broom, Josephine Serrani, Brianna Farrell Second Row: Adrian Phillips, Jessyka Norris, Livie Hammel, Gretchen Spenn, Francis Thawn, Aaron Rupright, Jalik Logan, Elias Perez, Jake Rauner, Joe Deiser, Emma Quinn, Kennedy Ball Third Row: Patrick Rorick, Luke Vargas, Dan Shank, Savion Golden, Trae Morgan, Abby Ullman, Ayrian Chapman, Thomas Bond, Jamari Cooper, Jesus Zuniga, Grant Lashure
Photo taken by Cindy Figel