Joe Kolar

Site: St. Frances Academy – Baltimore, MD

College: Loyola University Chicago

What do you do?

I teach senior Government and freshmen Religion, and coach track and girls volleyball.

What is the most challenging obstacle that your students face? How does your school and your own outreach try to empower them to overcome this obstacle?

By far the most challenging obstacle my students face is themselves—their fear, their lack of self-confidence, and their negative self-image. Some days it seems as though they want to fail: sleeping through a test after being woken up numerous times, talking back in a disrespectful tone to a teacher after being warned of the consequences, or choosing to stay involved with the wrong crowd even after the negative atmosphere has been pointed out to them. It’s hard to watch a student not live up to his/her potential. These are gifted kids! They are bright, talented, and have big dreams, but for a variety of reasons they sometimes lose sight of just how great they are. St. Frances tries to put these students in a position to succeed, primarily by encouraging them to explore their gifts, and celebrating even the smallest accomplishments. In keeping with this, I make an effort to point out even the smallest victories won by my students—spelling a word correctly, finishing a test on time, or even just sitting still for a class period. The hope is that they will soon realize that yes, indeed, they can be successful.

How has your involvement with the Brothers affected you?

Living with the Brothers has given me a profound appreciation for the power of community and a commitment to a mission greater than myself. These are men with a faith that can move mountains, and to learn from them has certainly deepened my own faith in Christ. I have found that my involvement with the Brothers has helped me “connect the dots” between the work I do and the faith I claim. Prior to living in community with the Brothers, my faith and works were, at best, disjointed. I participated in a few service activities and immersion trips in college, doing so out of an attitude of “of course I’ll help out, it’s the right thing to do.” These actions were never deeply rooted in the faith I proclaimed at Sunday mass or on various retreats. Living with and watching the Brothers has opened my eyes to a way of life that weaves both faith and works together, creating a lifestyle that is based on Gospel values in action. Whenever I doubt my abilities, question my faith, or second-guess my motives, it is the Brothers’ way of life that reassures my spirit.

Which of the core values (Faith, Community, Service) are most important to you? Why?

Had I been asked this question in my first year of service, I would have responded “Community” without any hesitation. In community I found and continue to find the strength I need to stay positive about my work. To come home each day to a happy, accepting, and caring home is no small gift, and it was my experience in community that motivated me to return for a second year. But now that I am in my second year, and looking down the road toward the end of my time as a LV, I think that Faith has moved to the forefront of my experience. The newness of this LV stuff has worn off, and, with those big, future-oriented questions looming, I find myself wondering, “Why?” Why do I do what I do? I have a different perspective of the volunteer life now, and I see many of my other friends living what some may call “normal” lives—working in a cool job, socializing with new pals at happy hour, living in the trendy neighborhoods of America’s happenin’ cities. Why didn’t I choose that? I know why I signed up to be an LV, but what sustains me in my life as an LV is faith, a faith that responds with an emphatic “YES!” on those long days when I wonder “do I even make a difference here?” Faith is the core value that allows me to see with clarity that the work we do as Lasallians is most certainly a valuable work, and that, despite the darkness that surrounds corners of the world into which we are placed, our light can and does shine through. Through Faith, lived out in service and shared in community, I find myself consoled and energized for the ministry with which I have been gifted.

Why would you recommend a contribution to the LV Program from a prospective donor?

The Lasallian Volunteer program provides young people with opportunities to deepen their faith while serving those groups that are pushed to the outskirts of society. In their ministries, LVs develop meaningful relationships with people who, were it not for the LV program, they may never have come in contact with. In these relationships, LVs give freely of themselves only to find that it is they who are being cared for by Christ through the very people the LVs thought they were serving. LVs find the face of God in the unlikeliest of places, and a donation to the Lasallian Volunteers allows for more young people discover Christ in this way. I can think of no better cause than this—to bring the gift of Christian education to those who need it most, and, in the process, provide young people a vantage point from which to see the face of Christ.

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