March: Cristo Rey De La Salle East Bay High School

Our March Ministry of the Month highlights Cristo Rey De La Salle East Bay High School (CRDLS) in Oakland, California, which is located within the District of San Francisco New Orleans. Isabella (Bella) Virgen is a third-year LV and a graduate of Saint Mary’s College of California. Benjamin (Ben) Peters is a second-year LV and a graduate of Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota.

What is Cristo Rey De La Salle?

Cristo Rey De La Salle East Bay High School St. Elizabeth Campus in Oakland, California, is a diverse, Lasallian Catholic learning community that educates young people to become men and women of faith, purpose and service. A rigorous and personalized college preparatory curriculum integrated with a corporate work study experience prepares students of limited economic means to succeed in college and in life. The Corporate Work Study Program empowers students to contribute to the cost of their education. Working five days per month, four students share one full-time entry-level position at a business, nonprofit or government agency. Cristo Rey De La Salle integrates this innovative Corporate Work Study Program into a rigorous, personalized college preparatory education.

How did Bella and Ben learn about Lasallian Volunteers?

Bella learned about Lasallian Volunteers during her junior year at Saint Mary’s College of California (SMC) while on a retreat. Bella shared, “I lived in a Living and Learning Lasallian Community during my junior year and during one of our retreats, Yolanda Franco, LV 14-16, who was an LV scholar at SMC that year, mentioned Lasallian Volunteers and where she served and what she did as an LV. I was able to ask her questions about the program and she made her experience sound like something I would want to do after I graduated.” Ben shared, “I first learned about the Lasallian Volunteers from our Campus Ministry director. At the time, I didn’t know what I wanted to do after I graduated, but I knew that I wanted some experience working in schools. From there I looked at the different opportunities, services and stories from people who were serving as Lasallian Volunteers at the time.”

What are the services Ben and Bella provide at Cristo Rey De La Salle?

Both Ben and Bella wear many hats at CRDLS. Both have roles within Campus Ministry and Community Life. Ben shares, “In addition to my official role, I have also subbed in a variety of classes, usually math or English, but I am currently long-term subbing two sections of our 10th grade chemistry class, which means I spend a lot of my day planning lessons and labs, grading and teaching classes. I also drive for the Corporate Work Study Program and work with a group of sophomores as a mentor.” For Bella, she shared, “I assist in the classroom as well as substitute when needed. I help organize Campus Ministry events like Masses, retreats and Lasallian Service Days. I help the Corporate Work Study Program by chaperoning students from work, and I help organize Community Life events like pep rallies and school dances.”

Which of our core values of Lasallian Volunteers is most important to Bella and Ben?

Community is at the heart of their LV experience. Bella reflected, “Each of the three core values have been important to my growth as a Lasallian Volunteer, but the one that stands out for me currently is community. My LV experience has taught me that community is not only a group of people I live or work with, but it is the idea that we as Lasallians are part of a larger community that has no limits or borders because we all share the same mission. This sense of community has become one of the most important aspects of my LV experience because in this larger community is where I have found support and formed long-lasting friendships with others around me. We as volunteers learn very quickly that even though we do not all live together or work together; we form a bond that allows us to keep in touch and rely on each other for support whether we are across the country from each other or across the dinner table from each other. Throughout my time as an LV, I have gained a great support system full of people who care about me, including current and former volunteers, other Lasallians and the Christian Brothers. I am very thankful for the Lasallian community.” Ben reflected, “I am able to serve via the life that flows through my time in community. As a Lasallian, my ministry is centered around the idea of serving ‘together and by association’ with our students, our co-workers, and—most importantly—the Brothers. Whether I am at school, in community or out-and-about, relationships give me the energy and the support—emotionally and academically—to do a better job with my students.”

How has living alongside the De La Salle Christian Brothers changed Bella and Ben?

This is the first year for both Ben and Bella to live in community at Saint Mary’s College High School. In reflecting on his experience Ben shared, “As a second-year LV in a new community, my community looks very different than it did during my first year. Living and serving with the Brothers has continued to provide me with the inspiration to do better in my own service and the encouragement to continue with my own discernment. The chance to be with these men who have given their lives to the service and education of youth has made me a better teacher and has shown me the way to what I want to do in the future.”

Bella shared, “Before I became a Lasallian Volunteer, I knew very little about the Brothers and did not have much interaction with them at Saint Mary’s College. One of the things I have enjoyed most about being an LV is having the opportunity not only to live with the Brothers in community, but also getting the chance to meet other Brothers who have joined us on retreats and the Brothers I have been able to meet and visit with when traveling to see other volunteers. I have learned a lot from each of these Brothers, and they have been people who have made my LV experience a memorable one. In my experience living with Brothers, such as Brother Bill Fecteau, Brother Ed Phelan, and Brother Johnathan Cord, make living in community feel like a home. From hosting Superbowl parties, going out to dinner to celebrate birthdays and holidays, early Saturday morning shopping trips, and having family and friends stay and visit, Brothers make community fun.”

What would Ben and Bella offer as advice to someone discerning a year of service?

Ben invites those who are discerning a year of service to “think about every factor. Your year will be difficult and challenging. There is a good chance that you will be asked to do things that you don’t think you’re ready for. And, there is a small chance that you may cry at some point. However, the work that you will do is incredibly important. Those challenges you face will change you. But you will never be alone. The family that you find as a Lasallian Volunteer is unparalleled in their support: professional and personal. This work is not for everyone, but it may be for you.” Bella shares that serving as a Lasallian Volunteer is an opportunity “through which you learn to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. You learn to become vulnerable and work out of your comfort zone. My LV experience has taught me so much about myself and what I am capable of. It has given me a sense of worth and has put some great people in my life that I am very grateful for. Looking back on my LV experience, I have friends I have met in this program from all over the country. I have also grown to become more confident in myself and proud of everything I have been able to push myself to accomplish as an LV. And as an added bonus, I am able to say that I lived in the Bronx and I know how to navigate the New York City subway.

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