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Passion reenacted

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placeholder April 22, 2013   •   VOL. 51, NO. 8   •   Oakland, CA

Volunteers at Our Lady of the Rosary School in Union City, who completed several projects during the service morning, posed for a group photo.
Courtesy photo

Saint Mary's day of service project gives schools a lift

Students and alumni from Saint Mary's College, parents of students at St. Elizabeth Elementary and other community members spent a Saturday morning sprucing up the school's entryway.

Saint Mary's College of California may be the one celebrating a birthday — its 150th — but it was also the one giving the gifts as about 800 volunteers spread across the region on March 16 at Saint Mary's Great Bay Area Day of Service for Schools.

The college sent about 250 students, many affiliated with its Catholic Institute for Lasallian Social Action, to 22 schools, including eight in the Diocese of Oakland.

Through its network of alumni and friends, and announcements on its broadcast partner, KTVU, the students were joined by additional volunteers. Parents at the Catholic schools that were receiving the helping hands also pitched in to help.

Among those thrilled to get the help was Sister Kathleen McAvoy, OP, principal of St. Elizabeth Elementary School in Oakland, where the Saint Mary's group joined with school community volunteers to spruce up the front of the school that had drawn complaints from the neighbors.

A garden of California native plants, planted by Sister Barbara Hagel, OP, had become overgrown with low-lying weeds. Some garbage was strewn in the area, left behind by people who sleep there without permission. With the 330 pupils arriving as early as 6:30 a.m., the area needed to be cleared.

Volunteers revved up a borrowed weed-whacker, and also pulled and raked by hand, then laid down a carpet of weed-killing fabric, and covered it with bark by the bagful. A pond that had become a potential breeding ground for mosquitoes was emptied and carried away.

Among those lending a hand were Dick and Linda Moore. He's a member of the Bishop O'Dowd High School Class of '63, and Saint Mary's College, Class of '67. They groomed flower beds near the school's front.

"We decided we should do something for the community," he said. Linda, a retired Oakland public school teacher, said, "We wanted to do something for the community and do something for schools."

"This is truly a community effort," Sister Kathleen said.

Sophomore Jenny Tolcher, and freshman Lauren Park were the leaders of the Saint Mary's efforts at the school, where, Sister Kathleen said, "most of the children have scholarships."

Emily Esguerra, Saint Mary's Class of '09, teaches at an independent school in Oakland. She heard about the service day on TV and came with her classmate to work, and "connect with the Saint Mary's community."

The work was also made possible by gardening supplies, a truck and some welcome labor provided by Team Depot, a division of Home Depot that assists nonprofit organizations in such ventures.

The appearance of the 33rd Avenue side of the school improved dramatically. There were a few spots where they'd run out of the fabric and bark, but the Team Depot folks promised to deliver more the next day.

"This is just such a blessing," Sister Kathleen said.

Gloria Galarza, principal of Our Lady of the Rosary School, was pleased when she learned that her school had been selected as one of the sites for the day of service.

At first, she thought it would be a small volunteer event.

Then she started seeing the television advertisements.

"It was great," Galarsa said of the turnout at the Union City school, where 75 volunteers came together to complete a variety of projects.

Galarsa said alumni, students and parents from Our Lady of the Rosary's "sister school," Moreau Catholic High School, "our own parents and kids," and students and families from nearby St. Bede and St. Joachim schools in Hayward volunteered.

They painted the inside entryway; repaired and repainted two sets of stairs and railings; weeded and laid down weed barrier; trimmed bushes and trees; and fixed trim.

It had been a busy morning, too, at St. Paul School in San Pablo, where about 60 people gathered to work.

"There's no way I could have done any of this," said Natalie Lenz-Acuña, principal, as she ticked off the list of accomplishments.

Volunteers finished an outside classroom and garden; restriped the blacktop; scraped and started painting the window sills; painted benches; took out large bushes that covered the front of the school; and performed a major cleaning project in anticipation of a major project.

Volunteers crossed the street to clean the former convent, which had been used as a shelter known as Mary's House. The building will become St. Paul Preschool, as early as this fall. Lenz-Acuña said she hopes to be able to offer the program to about 35 children, from age 3 to 5.

Richmond Sanitary Service donated a huge Dumpster and hauled it away, valued at $800, Lenz-Acuña said, and Home Depot provided about $1,500 worth of painting and gardening supplies.

Students noticed the changes when they arrived Monday. "We're so excited," she said. Students are especially eager to get to work in the sustainable garden.

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