Esse Quam Videri, which means "to be, rather than to seem," is the school motto for Academy of the Holy Names. For more than a third of the students at the academy, it's a goal they set for themselves as a part of the Christian Life Community service club.
Each year, more than a hundred students from the school work in small groups to serve the community. Seniors must earn 25 hours of volunteer service, and many of them choose to join Christian Life Community. It is the only organization where students from the academy, Jesuit and Tampa Catholic high schools come together to help the community. Students can volunteer to help organizations such as Habitat for Humanity, Alpha House, Tampa General Hospital or the McLain Home.
One group of students spends time after school tutoringchildren at the Cornerstone Kids Ministry after school. Anika Myers is the student group leader at the center. As an only child, she enjoys the chance to work with and learn from the children. "When I was a sophomore, I tutored a girl who had come from a bad home situation. No one had taken the time to work with her." Anika said. "With my help, she started learning how to read."
The groups meet each month in St. Anthony's Chapel at Jesuit High to talk about their experiences. The meetings are filled with prayer, Bible readings and songs. The sessions are often followed by small-group discussions.
"Our group is really small, and it's a great experience being able to talk in a circle about the different things that are happening to us," said Kelly Caballero, a volunteer at the McLain Home.
At the Rosa Valdez Center, students spend time with inner-city children. They bring them candy and coloring books, and host holiday parties. Linda Tindale, the Academy Christian Life president, often is greeted by a crowd of children, who surround her and ask her to play.
In an expression of hope, Linda said, "If we could only just make them happy for one moment and let them know that we care about them, we would feel great."
Another group feeds babies, changes diapers and spends time with adolescents at the pediatrics unit at Tampa General Hospital. Student volunteers also help the Life Center, where ailing children spend time away from the doctors, nurses and medical treatments. Kristine Cansdale, one of the group leaders, was able to ease the fears of one of the younger girls. "She was very nervous about going into the center." Kristine said. "When I tried to help her by listening and telling her not to be afraid, she opened up and started talking to me. I was the first person she would talk to."
Each group spends at least two days a month at their service, and students often find rewards in the smiles and tears of the people they help.
"It's nice to feel appreciated and know that you are making a difference," said Jennifer Walsh, who volunteers at the Dorothy Thomas Home.
Students also volunteer for Habitat for Humanity and help build houses for the poor. Kristen Eddings, who just joined the group, said she is excited about the chance to build and paint. "It will be great to see the whole community coming together," Kristen said.
Maureen Kearney, the academy group's faculty coordinator, spends time with the students at the Children's Home, which was created by the court system to help disadvantaged children. The students often bring presents for the children at Christmas. "When I gave one of the girls a package of presents, she started to cry because she had never received five presents at one time before." Miss Kearney said, "It teaches us that we should be grateful for what we have."
Each Academy student who joins the club has a different reason for wanting to contribute to the community. When they see the smile of a child who has just learned something, or receive kind words from a person they have helped, students begin to realize what giving is all about.
Laura Doerr, 17, a senior, is editor-in-chief of Academy of the Holy Names student newspaper, ACHONA. She plans to study biology in college.