In this month’s “Ministry of the Month,” The San Francisco New Orleans District is featured. The ministry is De La Salle Academy and the Lasallian Volunteers are Abby Michels, 15-17 and Katie O’Leary, 16-17. Abby attended Lewis University and graduated in 2015. Katie attended Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota and graduated in 2016. Katie and Abby focus on how service and faith help them continue their love for the Lasallian Mission fostered during their college experiences.
WHAT IS DE LA SALLE ACADEMY?
De La Salle Academy is a middle school for boys of academic promise from low-income families in the Greater Concord area. The school is grounded in the belief that a well-ordered and rigorous education is a key to breaking the cycle of poverty. Such an education can prepare students to live meaningful and productive lives and to recognize and fulfill their obligation to contribute to the well-being of the larger community. By focusing on students during their formative years, De La Salle Academy helps boys to lay a foundation upon which to build future success. Like our other Miguel Model schools, the school culture emphasizes citizenship, service, and responsibility, in a loving learning environment created by a skilled faculty and staff. At De La Salle Academy, attention is consistent, expectations are high, and each boy’s talents are recognized and nurtured, so that students can grow into young men with a positive vision for the future and with the skills to make their vision a reality. By providing opportunities for creativity and exploration, and for leadership and accountability, the Academy orients students toward the pursuit of excellence in everything they undertake.
WHAT IS THE SERVICE THAT ABBY AND KATIE PROVIDE AT DLSA?
Abby is the 5th grade guidance, 7th grade language arts and math, and 8th grade language arts and science teacher. She is also the head of the adult volunteer program, where she coordinates local adults to come in to either mentor or tutor the students. Katie’s role involves co-teaching 5th and 6th math and language arts, teaching 5th and 7th Spanish, PE supervisor for 6th grade, and is the volunteer coordinator for the tutors from the De La Salle High School in Concord.
WHY DID ABBY AND KATIE DECIDE TO JOIN LASALLIAN VOLUNTEERS?
Both Abby and Katie went to Lasallian universities, where their love for mission was nurtured in the classroom and through service opportunities. It seemed natural to them to continue their discernment as educators by joining the Lasallian Volunteers. Abby says, “I decided to serve with Lasallian Volunteers for a number of reasons. One, was to strengthen my faith. Two, was to fulfill my vocation of service to the poor. Three, I wanted to experience what it was like living in a different state.” Katie is a double Lasallian graduate, having also graduated from De La Salle Institute in Chicago. She says, “when I first heard about the program from my campus minister, Emily Vogel, I decided then that I wanted to be a volunteer after college. As I continued my education at SMUMN, I developed a passion for education and deepened my passion for the Lasallian mission. I wanted the opportunity to get experience teaching in a Lasallian school and living in community with Brothers and other volunteers.”
WHAT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING THAT THESE VOLUNTEERS OFFER TO THE STUDENTS ENTRUSTED TO THEIR CARE?
Both young women agree that a ministry of presence is the most crucial thing they can give at their service site. From the minute they pull into the parking lot on Galaxy Way, they try to interact with as many of the 64 students as they can. Abby says, “What the boys at the Academy need from me is attention and affection. Many people do not know that boys look for affection from adults more than girls do. I try to offer a listening ear and relate to the boys as much as I can so that they know I care about who they are individually.” Katie’s experience as a first-year volunteer has been very similar. She says, “I think they need a safe space, somewhere that they feel supported, challenged, and loved. They need to feel like they have a place and I feel that we all do that at DLSA. We try to provide as much support as they need. Whether that is homework help from the High school volunteers, which I coordinate.”
HOW HAS KATIE AND ABBY’S FAITH IMPACTED THEIR EXPERIENCE AS LASALLIAN VOLUNTEERS?
For Katie and Abby, faith and service are lived out together. Their service informs their faith and vice-versa. Both young women truly feels that God is with her when she is working with the students, families, and colleagues at DLSA. Both Abby and Katie have expressed a deepening in their prayer lives as a result of their time as Lasallian Volunteers and credit both living in community, their service, and each other for that change. Katie says, “I feel like one of the values we practice most together is faith. We bond over prayer and mass. I have also learned to be present to my community even if I have had a bad day, which helps me to be present for my students.” Abby shared, “I also learned to be present to my community even if I have had a bad day. In my community, we attend mass and morning prayer together. We break bread in the morning and recite the Breviary in the afternoon.”
WHAT WOULD KATIE AND ABBY TELL COLLEGE SENIORS THINKING ABOUT SERVING AS A LASALLIAN VOLUNTEER?
Both of our volunteers have found tremendous value in the community aspect of the entire network that Lasallian Volunteers provides. Katie says of this aspect, “You are able to meet so many new people, you have your cohort of young people working towards a common goal and mission, you meet all of the people you work and live with, and you meet many other professionals in the Lasallian world at the various retreats and Lasallian events throughout the year.” When asked about their personal experience as Lasallian Volunteers, Abby had this to say to other young people discerning a post-graduate volunteer year, “DO IT!!! Lasallian Volunteers gives you the opportunity to focus on your personal growth, before you have to enter the real world. However, this experience is very real. It will challenge you in ways that you never thought possible, but from it, you will find a new, more authentic you.” Katie says, “I can’t imagine being a first-year teacher anywhere else because of all the support I have. I have support from my fellow LVs, my co-workers, LV alums, and mentors.”