Lit by love of God and neighbor

The word “lit” has become a term of art in social media culture. If something or someone is “lit” they are cool, hip or novel. As the 76th Catholic Charities Appeal commences this week, I would like to share with you the work of a remarkable group of students at Holy Name School in Fall River who have been lit by LIT. 

LIT is an acronym for Leaders In Training. It is the idea of an extraordinary college senior, Dorothy Mahoney Pacheco, who has been spending a portion of her senior year volunteering at Holy Name along with Aidan Corey, a senior at Bishop Connolly High School. Pacheco conceived of the program based upon the leadership training she has experienced as an Endeavor Scholar at UMass Dartmouth. “I have been interested in a focus on service and leadership since my time at Bishop Stang High School,” said Pacheco. “We are encouraged to see ourselves as change agents.”

At Holy Name the Leaders In Training program is a voluntary activity open to students from grade eight to grade five. Dorothy and Aidan lead the after-school class in exercises intended to promote awareness of individual differences and strengths, respect for one another and perhaps most importantly, appreciation for the needs of others. 

“Leaders must be good listeners and trustworthy to be effective. We teach our students to respect everyone’s point of view and to try to develop a level of trust with those they are dealing with,” said Dorothy. “We also emphasize that our faith requires us to recognize the God-given dignity of each person regardless of their circumstances.” 

The LIT team took it upon themselves to learn about homelessness in their midst. They scheduled a visit to a local shelter; they met and learned about the circumstances that bring a family to homelessness. They discussed the consequences of being without a permanent home. Afterwards they met as a group to discuss and share their feelings and more significantly, what to do about it. 

Upon returning from their visit these young leaders in training had many questions. Principal among them was, “What can we do to help?” The same question we ask ourselves in response to Jesus’ charge to the Apostles questioning, “When did we see you hungry, Lord?” The answer? “Whatsoever you do for the least of these, you do for Me.” As you would expect from young leaders, they responded with a practical answer. They organized a drive to provide toothbrushes for all the children in the shelter they visited. 

When the young leaders at Holy Name were told that the theme for this year’s Catholic Charities Appeal was to be “Whatsoever you do…” they were challenged by their teachers to consider how they would respond. They created posters with their personal ideas of how to answer.

One day this past March I was invited to meet the class along with Nancy Lawson, the director of homeless services for Catholic Social Services. I listened as Nancy gave a beautiful talk about the depth and breadth of ways we, as Church, respond to the needs of young adults, older men and women and families who are homeless. Nancy spoke about CALL, the Coordinated Access to Local Links, which CSS runs in Southeastern Massachusetts. This program triages hundreds of calls from people in need throughout the area and provides a rapid response wherever the need is.

Nancy answered questions about how homelessness happens, explaining that unexpected loss, mental illness, fire, loss of a job or substance abuse are all causes that may result in need for shelter. She said that CSS is positioned to meet the person or family, assess their needs, coordinate the appropriate resources and follow through with them.

 The students then shared their posters with us. Each one reflected the impact of what they had learned as Leaders In Training and students of Holy Name. Noah Yetman told me he realized that bad luck can lead to being homeless. Liam Marshall said his perspective of the poor was changed by visiting the shelter. Priamos Koumas related that it “moves the heart” to help others. 

Isabelle Moniz was moved to start another drive after the success of the toothbrush effort. She and the Leaders In Training have started “Backpacks to Learn and Grow.” She has set a goal of filling 250 backpacks for the children of families living in shelters or transitional housing through Catholic Social Services so that when they return to school in September, they will have all the scissors, notebooks, binders, markers pens, crayons and paper they need to succeed.

Their efforts and the depth of their concern for the poorest of their brothers and sisters were truly moving. It left me proud of the panorama of care that our faith impels us to engage in. It left me determined to help Isabella fill those backpacks. It left me in awe of the drive and insight of the professionals who commit their lives to service. It left me hopeful for our future with people like Dorothy and Aidan coming along to assume the mantle of leadership for our society. In short, it left me LIT!

Anchor columnist James Campbell is director of the diocesan Development Office/Catholic Charities Appeal/Foundation to Advance Catholic Education.

© 2019 The Anchor and Anchor Publishing    †    Fall River, Massachusetts