February: John XXIII Educational Center

John XXIII LVsOur February Ministry of the Month highlights John XXIII Educational Center in Racine, Wisconsin, which is located within the Midwest District. Nicolas (Nic) Pezzola is a first-year LV and a 2019 graduate of Saint Mary’s College of California. Pepe Esteso is a first-year LV and a 2014 graduate of La Salle Paterna in Valencia, Spain.

What is John XXIII Educational Center?

John XXIII Educational Center opened its doors in the fall of 2009 and is now in its 11th year of service. John XXIII Educational Center is an after-school center where students come to do their homework, have mentoring and tutoring sessions, take part in breakthrough activities, and take English as a Second Language classes. John XXIII Educational Center’s mission is to empower students to grow personally, socially, morally and academically so that they can graduate from high school and be prepared to thrive in their educational journey as life-long learners in society. The center also serves to strengthen the families of the students in creating a supportive home environment with positive parental strategies and relationships that are critical for their success as parents and as a long-range social investment for their children now and in their future as parents.

How did Nic and Pepe learn about Lasallian Volunteers?

Nic shared that he, “Learned about Lasallian Volunteers through my best friend. When she was figuring out what she wanted to do after graduating from undergrad, she was directed toward Lasallian Volunteers. During her first service year, I was able to learn more about what she did as a volunteer, what the program stood for, and some of the other volunteer opportunities around the country.” Pepe learned about Lasallian Volunteers while visiting the Generalate in Rome a few years ago. He shared, “Years later, some Young Lasallians I knew from Spain served as Lasallian Volunteers and reading and hearing about their experiences I decided that I wanted to live an experience like that too.”

What are the services Pepe and Nic provide at John XXIII Educational Center?

Pepe serves as the high school supervisor. Pepe shared, “I take care of the high school class: I help them with their homework, I guide them about the future, we talk about topics of interest, difficulties in their studies or in their lives. We also organize breakthrough activities on Thursdays to improve their soft skills as well as introduce them to improvement programs and college access.” Nic serves as the supervisor of the middle school supervisor and outreach facilitator. He shared, “We provide 12 hours of supervised study hall for students from 5th – 12th grades during the week. If students are having trouble getting motivated or do not have much homework, we also offer a variety of activities which include incentive programs, board games and even sports! In addition to our normal center hours, we also offer our facilitation skills to the local middle schools. We currently offer five different curricula that engage students in advanced social-emotional growth. We have been able to successfully train students in the basic practices of Restorative Justice this year through our outreach program and are anticipating a high need for our ‘Crossing the Bridge’ program, which focuses on preparing students to successfully transitioning from middle school to high school.”

 Which of our core values of Lasallian Volunteers is most important to Nic and Pepe?

For Nic, he finds the core value of service to be most important to him. He shared, “Service is the most important because it helps me to remember the reason I am an LV and strive to enact change for underserved communities. While I find service is extremely important in creating a positive impact, I believe that it is extremely difficult to have one of these values without finding the other intertwined. Without my community and faith in the people I am serving, I might have found service much more difficult to complete than it has been. I have a very supportive community and my faith has grown in the population I am serving, making me more likely to invest more of myself in service to the students I work with.” Pepe shared that he finds community to be the most important core value for him. “I could not fully understand the impact of this experience without living in community, together, supporting one another and living in a community of fraternity. From the various experiences that I have had in this regard, I believe that this is the strong point of Lasallian Volunteers. Living in community makes you stronger, it is your second family and with Lasallian values you enjoy and learn a lot during your life together.”

What is the most important thing the students Pepe and Nic work with need from them?

“I think the most important thing my students need from me is consistency,” Nic shared. He continues, “They have to know that there is someone, or a group of people, who are invested in them and their futures. We serve in a rough school district and our students see a lot of turnover in the staff and faculty of their schools. This being said, it is crucial to also give our students space to process and explore the emotions they feel every day. Sometimes this occurs through a one-on-one conversation with a student and other times it happens as a group during an outreach program or even at the center. Being consistent and providing a space for our students are two of the most important things I have been able to give to my students.” Pepe says that his students rely on his presence and support. “Many of my student come here desperate to improve their grades, have problems at school, have no space at home to work or simply need a place of peace and quiet to work. There are also students who are looking for something more, they need to talk to someone one on one, tell their experiences and problems and try to find solutions to their personal and professional problems. We also often work with families who tell us about problems at home or at school and together we try to solve the problem.”

 How has living alongside the De La Salle Christian Brothers changed Nic and Pepe?

Nic shared, “Living and serving with Christian Brothers has impacted me by continually giving me insight into a group that I am not familiar with. Coming from different generations, faith backgrounds, and geographies, I have found that I am constantly being challenged in new ways. While living and working in an intergenerational community and ministry is not always the easiest, it has pushed me to become a more empathetic and understanding person.” Pepe has quite a few years of direct connections with the Christian Brothers in Spain. “It wasn’t something new to me. I studied for 12 years at La Salle Paterna and have carried out various professional and volunteer activities with the Christian Brothers in Valencia. For me, this has been more than a discovery; it has been a new step in my life process, in my journey in the Lasallian family. One more step, perhaps a longer and more profound one until now, where I left my whole life in Spain to be able to live and serve as an LV in the United States. I have felt very comfortable serving and living with Brother Mike Kadow, FSC, and my community, Casa Benedicta Community, with Evan and Nic. For me, it has been a step forward.

 What would Pepe and Nic offer as advice to someone discerning a year of service?

Pepe responded with, “I would say: Don’t think about it, live it! I believe that the best thing that those of us who have gone through the LV program have to do is to tell you about it and spread the joy and successes achieved in our ministries to all the people we know and in this way extend the message and mission. I believe that we should be a light for those interested in living an experience like this and be able to advise them not to doubt it and that living an experience like this changes your life and leaves a mark in your heart forever.” Nic would tell them, “that this has been one of the most enlightening experiences of my life. I did not think that working within the education system was something that I wanted to do or I would be good at. However, through this program I have been able to engage with a ministry that works both independently and with the school district it is located in to provide additional academic support. This was the opportunity of a lifetime and while I was unsure becoming a Lasallian Volunteer was the right move for me, there is no doubt that I was meant to become a volunteer.”

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