Nativity teens put Jesuit motto into action
by Jill Ragar Esfeld
email@example.com LEAWOOD — When high school sophomores Carter Clause and David Belpedio from Church of the Nativity Parish here volunteered at the Gillis Center for Boys in Kansas City, Mo., last Christmas, they were surprised at the condition of the residents’ activity areas. The decor was outdated, the upholstery on the furniture was torn, and the games were all damaged or missing parts.
Worst of all — at least to the teenage boys — was the fact that the walls were covered in a floral print.
“[It was] flowered wallpaper with little-kid bordering at the top,” explained Carter. “It’s not a good place for boys to be in.”
“It’s in their activity area where they hang out with the other kids,” added David. “I know I wouldn’t enjoy that at all.
“Carter remembers seeing the flowers and reflecting on a phrase he had often heard in religion class: “What would Jesus do?”
Jesus, he knew, would not stand idly by in the face of flowered wallpaper.
Carter and David first learned of Gillis Center through David’s parents, David Sr. and Jodi. The couple had long been involved at the residential treatment center for children with emotional and behavioral disorders: David as a member of the board of directors; Jodi as a volunteer.
Although David was quite familiar with his parents’ passion for Gillis, it wasn’t until he invited Carter to join the three of them at a Christmas workshop there that the plan began to take shape.
“Carter and I felt that we could really connect with the kids by redoing their activity area, because we both enjoy ours at home,” said David. “So by getting their ideas and putting some of our teenage ideas into it, we just felt like we could give them the best place.”
The first step, of course, was to get the approval of Gillis Center. The boys learned quickly that that wouldn’t be a problem.
“Most of the furniture is 20 years old,” said George Robbins, director of development for Gillis. “The paint is institutional green, and the pictures on the wall are stuff people have donated.”
Although Robbins said he would love to have renovated the area already, there was no money available for projects like that.
“Under our circumstances,” he said, “[renovations] are very difficult because the state and various government entities that support us don’t fund modernization.”
The next step, the boys decided, was to find out what sort of money the renovation would take. They met with a contractor and described their plans for renovating the seven areas. The estimate they received was $77,000 — quite a chunk of change for a couple of high school students to raise.
So the boys decided to get their parents involved. Over dinner, the Belpedios encouraged the teens to lay out their various options to Carter’s parents, Paul and Lynn Clause.
“I teach my children that there’s a bigger world out there, and their role in the world is to make a difference for having come this way,” said David’s father. “And I really try to not just talk about it, but to help them live it.”
Together, the families mapped out a plan of action that involved the boys calling on various companies during their summer break and asking for donations to fund the Gillis Center renovations.
“My parents gave Carter and me a list of companies where they knew some of the people,” said David. “And Carter and I called them to see if they would be interested in meeting with us.”
With the help of Robbins, the boys put together a presentation booklet with information about Gillis Center and their renovation project. As part of the presentation, each boy wrote and memorized a seven-minute speech. They then visited 27 companies.
“I volunteered to make the calls with them,” said Robbins, “but they said, ‘No, we’ll do it ourselves.’ They practiced, they rehearsed, they knocked on doors, and they raised all that money.
“Words can’t describe what these two teenage boys did — it’s absolutely awesome.”
Both boys attend Rockhurst High School in Kansas City, Mo., and said their motivation came from the Jesuit motto, “Men for Others.”
“The [Gillis Center] boys come from really rough backgrounds,” said Carter, “They’ve been pulled out of their homes, and they need some kind of sign from God, some kind of motivation.
“At Rockhurst, they teach us to go out in the community and be men for others and not for ourselves, and David and I thought this would be a really good example of that.”
By summer’s end, the boys had raised an impressive amount through their summer solicitation campaign, but still fell short of their goal by $20,000.
That’s when Plan B was hatched.
“David and I knew once school came around, we weren’t going to be able to hit all the meetings as hard,” said Carter, “so we needed something to finish off the rest of the money.
“So we thought of doing a parking lot party, and I talked to my mom about it.”
Carter’s parents own the Culver’s restaurant on 79th and State Line, a family-style restaurant famous for its trademark butter burgers and frozen custard.
When Carter approached his parents with the idea of doing a fundraiser in the Culver’s parking lot, they were delighted with the opportunity to get involved. They even offered to donate 100 percent of the profits on sales for an entire day to the Gillis Center in support of the boys’ efforts.
“We thought, OK, we can do this because we have the facilities,” said Lynn Clause. “We can just do one big night for the high school kids, with the idea that we’d get enough kids so we could donate all the profits to Gillis.”
The boys solicited entertainment for the event, including music, dancing, an inflatable bungee run, carnival games and plenty of raffle prizes. They marketed the party by putting up flyers at Rockhurst and neighboring high schools, and posting the event on the social networking Web site, Facebook.
With funds from the parking lot party added to those raised over the summer, David and Carter hope the renovation project will begin the first of next year. And they hope to help out even more by doing some of the labor themselves.
Both boys said their experience with the Gillis Center has helped them understand what it means to live their faith.
“I just feel good to help these kids who have so little — some of them just want a family,” said David. “I have a family that loves me, that gives me everything I need. “For me to give back to the community, to help God’s children, I think that’s an important part of faith.”