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Roncalli students learn service through experience

Roncalli Catholic High School's LaSallian Youth, a group within campus ministry, spearheads outreach opportunities at the school. Under the goup's leadership, this year's food drive collected about 3,000 items of food for the Omaha Food Bank.
By Brian Fuchser
The Catholic Voice
Service opportunities at one Omaha Catholic high school are geared toward celebrating service through experience.

That's according to Clayton Freeman, campus minister at Roncalli Catholic High School.

"Outreach is huge here," Freeman told The Catholic Voice. "Service is not an event, but a way of life. We try to celebrate our service work."

Father Paul Hoesing, chaplain at the school, said the service element at Roncalli serves two functions, which he called a "part of collective Catholic action."

"Experience is a touchstone in the hearts and minds of those who go to Catholic schools," he said. "We want the students to learn to do these things on their own. The instructional element inside school is important, and outside the school it becomes an example to the community."

Freeman said many Roncalli students go beyond the required 20 hours of service each year, and take proactive steps to help people, especially during the holiday season.

"My overwhelming thing is how much pride I have in these kids and all the ways they are generous," he said. "They are always willing to be involved."

He said it's "very hard to tell teenagers no" and because of this, "they will find a way to make it (service) happen."

Busy month

As part of their required service, Roncalli students are involved in outreach efforts throughout the year, but November is a key month for service activities. Two unique events the week of Thanksgiving are the Fast Banquet and "Penny War."

At the Nov. 23 Fast Banquet, all students will pay regular price for their lunch, but they won't be eating from the same menu. Fifteen percent of students receive their regular lunch, which represents a first-world meal. A quarter of the students receive a tortilla and beans, or rice and steamed vegetables, representing a second-world meal. The remaining 60 percent receive a Third-World meal – some rice or a tortilla.

Father Hoesing said other steps are taken to make the experience more realistic for students receiving Third-World lunches.

"We have them sit on the floor and take away the experience of having all the extras of a first-world meal," he said. "That adds to it and makes the contrast more apparent.

"Experience is the best teacher, so if we can set up the circumstances that make the food shortage and surplus tangible for at least a day, then they have something to remember that will have more impact than any dramatic statistics," he said.

Tyler Muench, a sophomore at Roncalli, received a Third- World lunch at his first banquet last year. He said he was in awe about how little food people in the Third World get.

"It made a lot of people think about giving money to the poor," he said.

Nick Haniszewski, a Roncalli senior, received a Third-World lunch each of his first three years.

"It's not very fun because all you get to eat is rice and you have to sit on the floor," he said. "It's kind of weird because you're not use to it. It makes me appreciate what we have."

The extra money from Third-World lunches is donated to the Notre Dame Sisters for their mission project in Honduras. To recognize the mission, some parts of the school's Thanksgiving Mass are spoken in Spanish.

'Penny War'

Another unique service opportunity, Roncalli's "Penny War," began Nov. 1 and runs through Nov. 23.

"The four classes compete to donate the greatest amount of pennies," said Father Hoesing. "It's a way to get everyone competitively involved, but also to recognize that a little goes a long way and if everyone gets involved, we can contribute a lot. The little things make all the difference."

The class with the most pennies in its jar at the end of the month receives "spirit points," which are totaled at the end of the year for a class prize.

Freeman said the "Penny War" is a "wonderful opportunity" for the students.

While competition is part of the project, the ultimate goal is raising funds to provide Christmas gifts to families the school adopts through the Juan Diego Center of Catholic Charities.

Freeman said students pick out and then wrap the gifts themselves. "There's a real desire to get as much as they can for these families," he said.

Helping others

Two other Roncalli service projects – the food drive and the blood drive – were completed earlier this month.

The annual food drive on Nov. 5 collected about 3,000 items of food for the Omaha Food Bank with nearly 80 percent of Roncalli's students participating.

Senior Doug Svatos said the food drive "makes you appreciate what you have more," while providing an enjoyable way to help others. "Service is stressed here," he said, "but a lot of people just do it for fun."

Father Hoesing credited the senior class for the success of this year's food drive. "We have a great group of seniors," he said. "They were bringing in armloads of food."

The blood drive, one of two each year, was held Nov. 18. Freeman said the drives average 40 to 45 units of donated blood. Participants include a high percentage of eligible student donors as well as some Roncalli teachers and staff, alumni, and a few parents.

Although service is stressed during November, senior Molly Bird was quick to point out that students do things for others throughout the year.

"Obviously people pay more attention to the holiday season," Bird said, "but we do things all year-round. It always feels good to do something for people less fortunate."

The Catholic Voice

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