Global Citizens Learn to Serve
by Laura Cristiano, Special to The Catholic Advocate
01/21/09



Enthusiastic sixth grade students, members of the Queen of Angels O Ambassadors Club, along with their teacher Desiree Franklin, focus on the importance of community service-local and international. Every two months the club selects a theme and organizes fund-raising and awareness-raising events for the school.

Service has always been an essential part of Catholic education. It is so completely intertwined within the mission of the Church that when Catholic school students are asked, "What do you do for service?" they are completely overwhelmed.

They aren't overwhelmed because they have to scramble to come up with an answer; rather, they are overwhelmed because their answer could entail an hour-long conversation.

"Celebrate Service" is the national theme to trumpet Catholic Schools Week, which runs Jan. 25-31 (see special report that begins on page 15).

Catholic schools typically partake in community outreach programs such as Toys For Tots and Thanksgiving donations for food pantries. As laudable as these outreach efforts are, they are seasonal. The needs of the poor and hungry are not limited to the months of November and December-or the four counties of the archdiocese.

Since Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Newark are concerned about their ongoing role in the community and world around them, their perspective on outreach is an ongoing endeavor. Many times, when the idea of service is brought up, a passage from Luke 12:48 is quoted: "When someone is given a great deal, a great deal will be demanded of that person."

But how exactly is "a great deal" defined? What kind of service is "demanded?" An interesting philosophical argument is posed: if you yourself face adversity, are you still obligated to assist others?

Many students in inner-city Catholic schools confront individual adversity on a daily basis, dealing with tough issues such as poverty, crime and neighborhood gangs. However, despite their own concerns, these students are often the most generous when it comes to helping others. Perhaps it is because of the challenges they face that these students are inspired to be compassionate and act to help those who deal with even greater problems-reaching out to support families in the archdiocese as well as people who live in distant lands.

Queen of Angels School, (Pre-K to grade eight) established in 1963 and located at 40-42 Irvine Turner Blvd.-in the heart of the Central Ward in Newark-is a place where students reach out to help those in need. "Students are taught daily to love others as Jesus instructed," Principal Everlyn V. Hay said. "I like to stress to our students that to attend a Catholic school is a blessing. As part of our religious education program it is imperative that students learn global awareness and begin to reach out to help other children less fortunate than they are.

"We are so excited to be a part of the 'O Ambassadors' program and we're proud to represent the voices of youth in Newark," she continued. "There are so many issues in our world that need our attention and we're ready to show that children care and want to make a difference in our world."

Students at Queen of Angels participate in the O Ambassadors program, which is a joint project of Oprah's Angel Network (Web site: www.oprahsangelnetwork.org) and Free The Children. Established in 1997 by talk-show host Oprah Winfrey, Oprah's Angel Network, "is a public charity that uses donations to award grants to organizations around the world that are improving access to education, developing leaders, protecting basic rights, and creating communities of support."

The students are working towards the UN's Millennium Development Goals, learning about international issues and making a tangible difference in the lives of their peers in the developing world. They are part of a network of O Ambassadors clubs across North America, an effort that encourages students to develop leadership skills and become active, compassionate global citizens.

"We are stressing global awareness for our students and hope to raise a minimum of $500 to send to Free The Children," Hay said. "While this seems like nothing much for our small school it is a lot." As of Jan. 13, the school met its goal and Free the Children matched their contribution. Anyone interested in making a contribution to the program can contact the school at (973) 642-1531.

Queen of Angels isn't the only school that has chosen to get involved with Oprah's Angel Network. Benedictine Academy, an all-girls high school located at 840 North Broad St., Elizabeth, also has joined the O Ambassadors club. On Dec. 4, 2008, the "Roots of Action" tour, featuring keynote speakers Michel Chikwanine and Katie Meyler, came to Benedictine Academy to inspire students to understand and care about the challenges facing youth around the world.

Their presentation encouraged the students to realize their power to change the world. The tour concluded with a leadership workshop, challenging students to "think critically about their world and the role they can play in making it a better place."

During the workshop, Chikwanine and Meyler spoke of the great desire of children in developing countries in Africa and Asia to attend school. They urged Benedictine Academy students to help raise additional money for the school they are trying to fund, saying that if everyone at the academy gave up a bag of chips ($1.50) for one day, it would raise enough money to purchase 16 goats for 16 families as well as send all of their kids to school.

"We can do a lot. We can go to Africa to help build a school," Kulvinder Kaur, a junior at Benedictine Academy, said after the presentation. Her cousin, Simarjit Kaur, a freshman added, "There are some people who would do anything to be in my place, to have the education I have. I really appreciate what I have here at Benedictine Academy."

(Editor's note: Laura Cristiano is the director of marketing for the Archdiocese of Newark's Schools Office and a frequent contributor to The Catholic Advocate.)






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