by Moira Cullings
ROELAND PARK — If a school could put all the lessons it teaches in the classroom into one day of action, “Rams Reaching Out” at St. Agnes School here might be the perfect model.
The day of service that began three years ago gives every class from preschool to eighth grade the chance to experience what it’s like to be the hands and heart of Jesus Christ to the world.
They do this through assisting a variety of Catholic Charities programs — both at the school and in the community.
“You think of people who are suffering and you think it’s nothing around here,” said eighth-grader Cal Hansen.
“Then you go to all these Rams Reaching Out activities and you get to see that these people really do need our help and we can do something that’s close to home,” he added.
This year’s eighth-grade class looked back at the last few “Rams Days” grateful for the lessons they’ve learned.
“It teaches us a lot about Christ and what he did for us and how we give back,” said Nathan Smith.
The day has shown eighth-grader Isabella Guadamuz how much she has to be thankful for.
“It helps us even more to want to help people because we want them to be happy, too,” she said.
One goal of this annual day of service is that, by the end of their time at St. Agnes, students will have participated in an array of Catholic Charities programs.
This will give them a broader perspective of the service opportunities out there and hopefully inspire them to continue volunteering in some way in the future.
The eighth-graders agreed that participating in Rams Day has given them a unique outlook on their community.
“It lifts your faith in humanity a little,” said Sarah Hayes. “It makes you think, ‘Wow, here are these people who have gone through so much. But here’s these people who are willing to help.’
“You don’t see that a lot.”
This year, the class volunteered for New Roots for Refugees at the Juniper Gardens Training Farm in Kansas City, Kansas, where refugees learn the skills to farm, manage and sell produce they grow themselves.
This provides food for their families as well as the community.
Although the rainy weather wasn’t ideal, the students maintained a positive attitude while they did hands-on work out in the fields.
“There’s a lot of hard work [involved],” said Smith.
“But as long as you have an open mind and a great attitude, it’s not that bad,” he added.
The eighth-graders agreed that this experience also brought them closer to fellow classmates they might not necessarily interact with outside of school.
“You get to be with people who you love to be around and you get to have fun while you’re doing it,” said Hansen.
“It’s a braid of Christian attitude, fun and helping others,” said Smith.
The eighth-graders have fond memories of helping at Hope Distribution Center and TurnStyles on previous Rams Days. But many agreed that New Roots was their new favorite.
“Now that we know what this feels like [volunteering here], we want to do it again because it’s fun,” said Hayes.
Moving forward to high school, the students are determined to carry their outreach with them.
“I always feel really happy when I come out for Rams Reaching Out Day because I know I’m doing something good for other people and not just for myself,” said Guadamuz.
“It ends up showing me more about myself and others,” she said.
The experience has also allowed these eighth-graders to grow in their faith in a way they wouldn’t be able to inside the classroom.
That growth is largely symbolized in the work they accomplished at New Roots.
“We’re eighth-graders and we’re growing. And in a sense, this is a farm and things are growing,” said Guadamuz.
“We’re moving on,” she continued. “It’s based on all this hard work and the foundation that we’ve laid.”
Guadamuz and her classmates are grateful for the opportunity to serve in this way with their entire school.
“All of us together affect a lot of people,” said Smith.
Called to be ‘Jesus to everybody’
Staff members at St. Agnes and Catholic Charities have been overwhelmed by the effect of Rams Reaching Out Day since its inception.
“The beautiful thing is that Catholic Charities has so many ministries that we can really share with the kids,” said Jane Sullivan, principal at St. Agnes.
“It’s really a good way for us to partner with them,” she added.
Whether students are inside the school measuring coffee for food pantries or out at TurnStyles in Overland Park organizing the store, St. Agnes students are making an impact on their community.
This year’s event took place April 28 and began with Mass with Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann.
Each class dispersed following Mass to start their service projects, which took up most of the day, then came together at the end for closing talks and musical performances by Noelle Garcia and David McHugh.
As complex and chaotic as the day can be, it’s parents like Jenny Hughes — who played a major role in the day’s success — that keep everything running.
“It was important for us [organizers] to be able to give a lot of different experiences to our kids,” she said.
Hughes hopes that introducing St. Agnes families to many of the Catholic Charities programs that exist will motivate them to get involved together in a program they enjoy.
Catholic Charities, in turn, is grateful for the support and for the relationship they’ve been able to foster with St. Agnes families. They hope to build similar ones with other archdiocesan schools.
“Part of our goal at Catholic Charities is to serve our brothers and sisters in need,” said Denise Ogilvie, vice president of outreach and grants management.
“Our second goal is really to make those connections with our parishes and our schools so that they can serve their brothers and sisters in need,” she continued.
It’s important to St. Agnes and Catholic Charities that they educate the kids on the actual impact of their volunteer efforts.
So on Rams Day, several Catholic Charities employees were there to talk with each class about how the program they are helping with changes the lives of those in need.
The message they hope to get across is simple.
“Our call is to be Jesus Christ to everybody,” said Ogilvie. “We don’t just do this because it makes us feel good. We do it because this is what Jesus asks us to do.”
According to a national organization that tracks volunteer work, said Ogilvie, each volunteer hour is worth about $23.07 to an agency.
“Based on the amount of hours the kids did [on Rams Day],” she said, “they basically donated $13,684 to Catholic Charities.”
Both Ogilvie and Hughes hope the students take interest in their work and that some might even see a future in serving others.
“We want our kids to see if this is something that you love and that you’re good at, this could be your thing,” said Hughes.