In this month’s Lasallian Volunteers “Ministry of the Month,” The District of Eastern North America is featured. The ministry is San Miguel School of Washington, D.C. The Lasallian Volunteers are Jon Vanegas, 16-18 and Ellie Cash, 15-17. Ellie is a graduate of St. Louis University and Jon is a graduate of Manhattan College.
WHAT IS THE SAN MIGUEL SCHOOL? San Miguel School is a Lasallian middle school, dedicated to transforming lives for academically underserved and economically disadvantaged boys in the Washington, DC, metro area. Based on the virtues of St. John Baptist de La Salle, our Miguel model of education provides the academic, spiritual, and social training necessary for positive character development, personal resiliency, and responsible citizenship. Students enter San Miguel DC as at-risk boys and graduate Miguel Men, equipped for future success in high school, in college, and in life beyond.
WHAT IS THE SERVICE ELLIE AND JON PROVIDE? Ellie is a mathematics and religion teacher while also perfecting recesses and lunchtime. Jon teaches science and religion as well as perfecting during recesses and lunch as well.
HOW DID JON AND ELLIE BECOME LASALLIAN VOLUNTEERS? Jon discovered his passion for service on an immersion trip to Guatemala. He says, “Once I went through that experience, I knew that I would give the rest of my life to giving back to those who needed more than me.” Ellie was drawn to the pedagogical innovations of John Baptist de La Salle that we know to be unique to our schools and agencies. She says, “I was very drawn to St. John Baptist de La Salle’s mission and dedication to education for the students who need it most. I have found throughout my work with the Lasallian schools that we challenge students academically, but also help in forming their character, as well. We work closely with students and their families to make sure each student has their own personal needs met.”
HOW DO JON AND ELLIE TOUCH THE HEARTS AND MINDS OF THE STUDENTS AT SAN MIGUEL? Both volunteers value the personal interactions they have with their students. They have invested in the school and realize that a successful volunteer year comes from finding God in the kids themselves. Ellie says, “Besides the material itself, we teach character building through St. La Salle’s virtues, and many of our students find staying focused and organized to be very difficult. But when they’re proud of their completed homework and orderly agenda, I know that it’s because they’re learning the true importance of practicing the virtues, which are the same reasons why I come to school every day. I love witnessing those moments with my students!” Jon agrees and follows up her statements with his own when he says, “I am here for my students no matter what. I saw that I was making a difference in my classes because they were interested in the material, but it was when I began engaging them as people by really listening to them that I saw them feel validated by me as another adult who loves them.”
HOW HAS LIVING WITH THE BROTHERS OF THE CHRISTIAN SCHOOLS IMPACTED JON AND ELLIE? Jon and Ellie have both enjoyed community life with each other and with Brothers. For Jon, his prayer life has deepened since he moved into community. He says, “I feel the presence of God. I am more open with talking about faith and my beliefs. It was not easy at first, but Brother Joseph is so wise and gives some of the best advice.” Ellie agrees when she says, “Through their years of experience in different cities and with different populations of the students, the Brothers have an unending amount of wisdom to share. Whenever I’m sharing a story about the different struggles I had with students, Brother Joseph reminds me of a student’s particular struggles, and I can see how important his patience has been in his work. Living with religious Brothers doesn’t always sound ideal for a young person, but I have gained so much personal and professional wisdom because of them.”
WHAT DO JON AND ELLIE WANT TO SAY TO COLLEGE SENIORS CONSIDERING A YEAR OF SERVICE WITH THE LASALLIAN VOLUNTEERS? The message is simple. Come and see! Jon says, “I wanted to be a voice for the voiceless. You’ve worked hard to understand equations, engineering principles, and dynamics. You sacrificed so much of your time to prove your intelligence and your creativity. It’s time to put yourself in a vulnerable situation. Use this intelligence and creativity for the benefit of others. Join a program that will open up your mind about issues you had no idea took place in your backyard.” Ellie says, “St. La Salle’s work was totally new to me when I entered the program, but the Lasallian community is thriving in cities across the world and it has been a blessing to become a part of this family. The friendships I have made within our cohort have been vital to my survival as an entire workforce, and the support system that the LVs provide through mentors and site and community directors always make sure we’re doing well. This is an ideal setting for graduates entering the working world, and all should consider it!”