NEWARK — The Jefferson Awards service program has become a fixture at several Catholic high schools in the diocese, and now Salesianum School and Holy Angels School are teaming up to bring the concept to lower grades.
Dolores Ballintyn, a teacher of religious studies at Salesianum, said she and Barbara Snively, the Holy Angels principal, believed there was a way to partner students in a high school and an elementary school to help them and the community.
“Barb and I really believe very much in the concept of mentorship and serving between our Catholic elementary schools and Salesianum,” said Ballintyn, a former director of religious education at Holy Angels-St. John the Baptist Parish.
Students from the two schools met in September and will join forces again on Jan. 28, when they will make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the Code Purple project at Holy Family Church in Newark. The sandwiches will be served to homeless people who take shelter at Holy Family on winter nights.
Service “is really in our mission statement here,” Snively said.
This will be the third project this year that Holy Angels School has done for the Newark Empowerment Center, which operates the Code Purple program.
“In November we had an extensive coat drive, and all the donations, 200 coats, went to the Newark Empowerment Center and to the Friendship House to help clothe those that were in need,” Snively said. “Our Christmas outreach for our school was also the Newark Empowerment Center. Something a little different that we went with were hygiene kits for those that would be part of Code Purple.”
Ballintyn said the Jefferson Awards team from Salesianum will help make the sandwiches and will talk to the group from Holy Angels about leadership and being role models. Service, she said, is a central component of the Salesianum experience.
“The school is just so empowering about us reaching out into the community to serve,” she said.
The coat drive and hygiene kits both involved the entire school, while the “peanut butter outreach” is specifically for middle school. Snively said one of her hopes is to prepare her students for high school, where community service is often a requirement.
“Sometimes they’re blindsided by service. They haven’t done anything other than maybe sending in a monetary donation for a dress-down day. At least if they have the tools to have been out prior to high school at a site or to do something in a collaborative sense then they can be prepared and maybe enthusiastic when they get to high school,” she said.
Two students who expect to take part on Jan. 28 are eighth-grader Kyle Johnson and seventh-grader McKenzie Conner. Kyle said he likes the emphasis on service at Holy Angels.
“It seems everyone participates always. There’s really no group of kids that doesn’t like to participate. Everyone just does it,” he said. “We do have a lot of good leaders in our school. It’s nice to have people like that who will step up and say it, and it’s not just a select few.”
McKenzie said she tells kids she meets from other schools about the work for the community that is done at Holy Angels. The students are not forced to help out, but they do because it is the right thing to do. She doesn’t hesitate to lend a hand.
“I like to volunteer. I think it’s actually fun. You’re helping other people that need more than you do. You’re more fortunate than them and you don’t realize it until you reach out and help them,” she said.
Snively expects about 25 students to help out with the sandwiches on Jan. 28. It is open to middle school students at Holy Angels and to middle-schoolers in the parish youth group, as well as the Salesianum youngsters.
One possible outcome from the partnership, Snively said, is an expansion of the Jefferson Awards to middle schools. She said Holy Angels would love to be the first chapter.