Students Find Summer Service Program a Special Learning Experience

by Kate Kennedy | July 3, 2024

Nine high school students toured Catholic Charities locations, learning about the agency’s assistance and doing service projects last week as part of a special summer service program.

The juniors and seniors from six schools visited programs that represent the range of services provided by Catholic Charities. At the Kennedy School and Child Development Center in Northeast D.C., they organized the student library and set up outdoor recreational activities.

Daphney Budd of St. John’s College High School especially valued a visit to the Harriet Tubman Women’s Shelter, where the students made friendship bracelets and played board games with residents. She found the women residents welcoming and engaging.

The group also pitched in at the Spanish Catholic Center’s food pantry in Northwest D.C., where Nathanael Songu-Mbriwa of St. Vincent Pallotti High School said the experience “taught me to be thankful for the things I have.” That experience and food packaging at the SHARE Food Network were also valued by Matt Conlon of DeMatha Catholic High School, who said it “made me happy to restock the food pantry.”

As part of their service, they also packed 30 care kits with socks, underwear and other necessities for Welcome Home Reentry clients who live at Mulumba House, and they did a clean-up at an Anchor Mental Health location.

“This is my first time volunteering with Catholic Charities,” said Caroline Coffman, a student at Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart. “It’s been great to be able to talk to people and listen to them. I’m helping them but they are also teaching me, and it has been a full circle experience.”

The summer service program, created with input by high school faculty, followed a service summit hosted by Catholic Charities and attended by 17 Catholic high schools in February.

The weeklong summer program used the service-learning approach. Before each project students learned who would benefit and how, and after each project they wrote responses to reflection questions. The reflections will be resources they will turn to in the coming months and years to plan service projects for their peers.

“Our vision is that every student graduating from a Catholic high school in the area has at least one service experience with Catholic Charities,” said Maggie O’Neill, director of the volunteer engagement office. “We recognize that Catholic Charities’ future volunteers and leaders are in high school now. The summer service program cultivates student leaders who will gain experience serving with us and will facilitate projects during the next school year for their classmates.”

The students already were thinking about how they would bring the experience back to their school. Daphney thought about creating a service club at her school, and Matt said he would encourage others to serve.

Schools represented in the summer program were Elizabeth Seton High School, DeMatha Catholic High School, Georgetown Visitation Preparatory School, St. John’s College High School, St. Vincent Pallotti High School and Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart. They were joined by students participating in a high school program run by the agency’s Compass program for young people interested in social work careers.