| St. Elizabeth students
are on a mission
Student leaders at St. Elizabeth High School were invited to give up a week of summer vacation in return for getting up early every morning, navigating the sometimes perilous streets of San Francisco's Tenderloin and coming home exhausted each day.
One of the school's generous donors paid the cost for the students, leaders in schoolwide and class government, as well as campus ministry, to participate in Bay Area Ministry, a diocesan-sponsored weeklong immersion program at St. Anthony's in San Francisco.
For the students, it was a transformative experience.
"I was kind of skeptical about it," said Danielle Shaw, a senior. "Look at the area we're in. There's so much crime here. I don't feel safe. I had to keep reminding myself, 'I'm here to do something, and if I don't do something, that makes just as big of a difference if I do do it.'
"It's our job -- if you're 5, if you're 18 or if you're 62 --our job is to help all the others in our community who need us the most."
Explaining what one gains from volunteerism doesn't do it justice. "You have to have done it to feel it," she said. Danielle has since returned to volunteer at St. Anthony's; this time she brought her mother along to help.
For student body President Jerry Ochoa it was a homecoming of sorts.
"I was born there," he said. "Seeing poverty and people who are homeless have overrun that part of the city … I didn't know it was that hard for mom."
Coming face-to-face with poverty "really did change me," he said.
"It made me appreciate what I have, and to be fortunate for what I have and for the sacrifices that have been made for me, even to go to this school," said the senior. "It made me value the things that I have, not the things that I want. It opened up my eyes to be more appreciative."
The students learned important lessons. "It's nice getting attended to, but it feels better to attend to someone else," said Dhruv Patel, a senior.
Right after the experience, the seniors in the group joined their classmates for the Kairos retreat, a program to contemplate God's role in young lives.
"St. Anthony's really softened me up for Kairos," said Karina Tavares, who in conversation with a guest at St. Anthony's went from being "not half bad" to "the sister he never had" over the course of the week.
"I feel we got more out of Kairos because we went to St. Anthony's," Danielle agreed.
A question for reflection posed at Kairos – Where do you find God? – was answered by Junior Salcedo. "Through people," he said. "At St. Anthony's you do truly see God through each one of them."
Patti Collyer, coordinator of ministry to youth and young adults in the Diocese of Oakland, led the summer program. Collyer said she found it "very profound that a group from an inner-city Catholic high school in Oakland went to serve in inner-city San Francisco."
On the program's last day, she took the young people, whose "compassion and enthusiasm" she had admired all week, to a family-style Italian restaurant. After the meal and conversation, the students considered the leftovers, then prepared about 20 individual to-go boxes.
They planned to hand them to people in need as they walked to the BART station.
"It choked me up," Collyer said. "I said to myself, 'They get it.'"
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