Owen Bolzenius combined his interest in sports and his concern for children who don’t have sports equipment with an eighth-grade project at Immaculate Conception School in Union.
He’s collecting softball and baseball equipment to distribute at the registration for Union Little League and the Union Girls Softball Association.
Another eighth-grader at the school, Maddie Dickinson, has become involved with the Hope for Franklin County Coalition, a community organization providing prevention programs that help reduce the likelihood that youth will engage in substance misuse. It raises awareness, educates, provides teen leadership and advocates for public health policies. She developed a new logo for the Hope Coalition for her project.
The stewardship effort at the school, known as empowerment projects, began about three years ago with the eighth-grade students at Immaculate Conception as part of their preparation for the sacrament of Confirmation, a way for students to provide service to the community as a witness to the faith. School staff wanted students to make more of a connection with the “why” of the service and included a research piece and visual display of their service project.
“The idea was to create meaning and purpose,” said Sharon Lenger, Washington regional director of the archdiocese’s Office of Catholic Education and Formation. By investigating and understanding the need, providing the service and sharing its importance, the students develop a sense of empowerment and “become living witnesses to the faith,” Lenger said.
Owen said he picked his project because “I just always loved baseball, always had the equipment to play and was lucky to afford it. Some kids don’t have it, so I thought it would be nice to help kids out who don’t have it or can’t afford it.”
He met with his city’s parks board to explain the project and get their OK. Donation sites will be at the city auditorium and at his school. Owen designed a flyer to advertise the collection. The project helped him be more outgoing and learn communication skills, he said.
Owen’s mom, Alicia Bolzenius, said proposing a project to be approved has taught her son life skills that will help him in high school at St. Francis Borgia. Plus, “he wanted to give back to the community and share his talents,” she said.
Maddie first learned of the Hope Coalition, which provides services to the TREND drug-free lifestyle group at Immaculate Conception School, through her school. She attended an open house about the coalition and became a youth advocate for Hope’s Being an Ally for Youth, which assists youth in feeling connected to their community and adults and thus prevent substance abuse. Ally for Youth committee members discussed needing a logo that would alert youth of a trusted adult who will listen to them, not judge and help them.
“I know what it’s like to feel like you can’t talk about what you’re feeling, and I wanted to show that it’s OK, everybody goes through stuff,” Maddie said. “If kids are feeling down and that they can’t talk to someone, some of them will turn to drugs and alcohol.”
She picked the symbol of an eye for the logo to show that “I (eye) see you, I (eye) am here and I (eye) will listen.”
Immaculate Conception School academic support counselor Kate Schroeder said, “I feel this empowerment project has also helped her see how her talent can be shared and hope she continues to develop her creative talent.”
Maddie’s mom, Becky Dickinson, said: “Doing the empowerment project enabled her to showcase her talents as well as her big heart.”
Students make a display board, similar to a science-fair board, in which they include photos, background on the organization, the purpose of their project, what they learned from it and more. It is displayed for the parish community at the end of March along with science fair projects and fourth-graders’ projects on a topic related to Missouri. Some of the students are present to answer questions about their projects.
Shelley Jensen, principal of Immaculate Conception School, said “it’s meaningful for our eighth-graders, helping them pay attention to what they’re getting out of those service hours. They have to think about what they’re doing.”
In addition to the eighth-graders’ efforts, each grade at Immaculate Conception is assigned a stewardship project and are encouraged to pray for the recipients of the service. Third-graders, for example, wrote letters to active and retired military members. On Veterans Day, they assembled a packet to bring home with a small toy military figure and a prayer. Seventh-graders are assisting Grace’s Place Crisis Nursery, which is opening a home for mothers and children in Union.
Jill Burkett, a regional director with the
archdiocesan Catholic Office of Education and Formation, states that
service is an essential aspect of a Catholic education, and it goes well beyond a requirement of service hours. She adds that service:
Speaks to our discipleship and strives to cultivate the desire to give
of oneself, including ones abilities and resources, to help those around
us in big and small ways.
• Typically begins at a very young age
by donating money or goods to help people in their community. As
students grow, hopefully their experiences go beyond a simple donation
and move toward acts of service and time.
• Seeks to expose
students to a variety of ways to help their families, their parish
families and their broader community. Exposure to a wide range of
service opportunities during the formative years hopefully helps
students recognize many ways they can serve others as they move into
• Has a goal of cultivating the desire to serve, to
give, to be Christ to others. For these reasons, it has been and will
continue to be a core element of Catholic education.