Giving back, a fundamental part of Catholic Education

In recent years, there has been a growing trend that schools, both public and private, offer students opportunities to engage in community service. For many, the experience helps to develop important skills such as teamwork and a sense of compassion, even during a Pandemic.

But for Catholic schools, community service is more than an admirable option or a nice addition to one’s college application. Service activities are fundamental to Catholic education and core to Catholic discipleship.

At Bishop Verot Catholic High School in Fort Myers, community service is described as “One of the greatest ways to impact and improve the larger community… Verot’s active service policy holds each student responsible for their role in changing society. Over the course of four years, students must complete a minimum of 100 Service hours centered on ‘hands on’ and direct experience with those in need.”

Principal Suzie O’Grady said it is believed that when students are exposed to the injustices that surmount our society, they can truly identify with the marginalized, and seek change. As Verot’s statement on community service continues, “Our hope is every student will have a life changing experience driving them to continue to serve the greater community beyond their time at Bishop Verot.”

Each year, Verot students complete more than 25,000 community service hours. It is through the concept of service that students learn how much of a difference one person can make, but the difference an entire community can make is overwhelming, O’Grady said.

Father John Belmonte, SJ, Diocese of Venice Superintendent of Catholic Education, said at all 15 Catholic schools service to the community is a priority as it is important that all students not only be ranked by their academic successes, but by their engagement with the marginalized of our society.

“This is key to creating a Catholic identity for each Diocesan Catholic school,” Father Belmonte said. “We want our community service policy to plant the seed of Faith and love in all the students, thereby reflecting the love of Christ in their schools and in their community.”

In recent months Bishop Verot students have worked on a number of school-wide efforts including a recent successful Lenten Charity Drive which collected thousands of food items for Catholic Charities and other area organizations. Students also regularly volunteer to help distribute food at the Catholic Charities Elizabeth K. Galeana Food Pantry.

The school also helped prepare PPE (personal protective equipment) packages for the United Way. Packages included hand sanitizer, masks and much more, and will be given to needy families throughout the area.

Two Verot students are currently leading a Freshman Class project to create graduation gift bags for each of The Immokalee Foundation’s 60 graduating seniors, including a book, personalized poster, and fun items to celebrate the milestone in style.

At St. Andrew Catholic School in Cape Coral, a service project took a different focus as students created over 300 handmade Easter cards for the residents and workers at the Rehab and Healthcare Center of Cape Coral. Earlier in the year the students partnered with the Catholic Charities Senior Program to provide senior citizens with needed supplies.

For the students at St. Elizabeth Seton Catholic School in Naples, the giving is done on a different level as the school remembers well the generosity of others who supported them in 2017, following the destructive Hurricane Irma. Therefore, when the school had a dress down day (a donation allows a student to opt out of wearing the school uniform) in March the $400 collected will go to a Catholic school in Texas impacted by the devastating winter storm.

Of course, these are just a few of the many acts of Christian which take place daily in Diocese of Venice Catholic schools throughout the year.

Father Belmonte said Diocesan students are continuing a long tradition with acts of service in a wide variety of settings so that the love and compassion of Christ may transform our world today.

Students give back

By Deborah Suddarth – Special to the Florida Catholic

With the challenges of the Covid-19 Pandemic, students at St. Joseph Catholic School in Bradenton have had to social distance physically, but their hearts have remained united in Catholic Social Teachings through works of charity.

With the largest Food Pantry in Manatee County located next to St. Joseph Church, the students are aware of the approximately 125 volunteers who serve their community by distributing food to those in need.  Among these volunteers are some of their parents. Throughout the year students have collected food items and during the colder months donated blankets.

Recently, Sienna Bell, president of the St. Joseph Builders Club, and Connor Longo, president of the St. Joseph K-Kids, decided to join forces to collect items for Blessing Bags for the homeless. They collected items often needed by the homeless who come to the Food Pantry, and for those who are seen on the streets when their families travel through the Manatee County area.

Students and families donated bottles of water, socks, small snacks (granola bars, peanut butter crackers, trail mix), personal sized toiletries, wet wipes, hand sanitizer, gum, small packages of tissues, and disposable razors. K-Kids and Builders Club members safely packaged these items to be distributed to the homeless, under the direction of Kiwanis Club sponsors. The idea of a blessing bag is that it will last the receiver for at least a few days and is packaged by those who care.

K-Kids and Builders Club members take Blessing Bags with them to distribute as they travel with their families. They wanted to have the bags in their cars to be ready if they see someone in need. Bags were also delivered to the St. Joseph Food Pantry for distribution to their homeless clients.

When the students were asked by a food pantry volunteer, “What do you think of when you see a homeless person?”  Connor Longo responded, “First, I feel sad that something has happened to them and they are now on the street.  I also realize that they do not have family and friends to help them.  Some of them may be ill. I know we are all part of God’s family and I want to help them and hope they know that we are all brothers and sisters in Christ.”

Deborah Suddarth is the Principal of St. Joseph Catholic School and can be reach at

Valentine’s Day: Students offer comfort to seniors

Being “A Disciple of Christ” means thinking of others, just as Christ did during His ministry on earth.

A group of 17 students from the St. Joseph Catholic School Builders Club did just that. Instead of going home at the end of a half-day of school, they opted to spread Valentine’s Day cheer to the residents of the nearby Summerfield assisted living facility in Bradenton.

Students played a variety of games with the residents; the most popular of which was a variation on bingo. As a special treat the students brought gift bags with prizes (nail polish, lotion, deodorant, words games, and other items) for the participants. For residents who did not wish to take part in the games, students took time to speak to them as both young and old alike shared stories about their lives.

Resident Betty learned to play Yahtzee (a dice game), while enjoying spending time with the students. “It is so sweet for them to visit. They are so kind and very energetic.”

Another resident, Joyce, said she was impressed that the students volunteered their time to visit when they could be home or outside playing. “When I was young, we could only be seen and not heard. It is amazing that these young ones care enough to want to be here. It means so much to me and to everyone.”

As a special treat, residents were given Valentine’s Day cards, each with a handwritten note expressing kindness and warmth.

The Builders Club is a service leadership program of the Kiwanis Club, and encourages students to work on service projects in their community. Anthony Longo, Club President, said his fellow students wanted to do something special for others as “Disciples of Christ,” so reaching out to spend time with the residents of an assisted living facility seemed like the perfect option. “We organized this because we wanted to do more, and Valentine’s Day was the perfect time. We work on projects for the school, but this was something special.”

Teacher Mara Curran said she was impressed when the students opted to skip going home early so they could spread the “light of Christ to the residents of Summerfield.” Many of the students had visited the facility at Christmas when they were in kindergarten, so they inquired about doing so again at a time when many have no one with whom to celebrate Valentine’s Day.

As part of the ongoing 35th Anniversary of the Diocese of Venice, Bishop Frank J. Dewane challenged the young people of the Diocese, in particular the students at Diocesan Catholic schools, to become “A Disciple of Christ” in how they lived and acted.

For their volunteering at the assisted living facility, each student was recognized and presented with a #DisciplesDOV t-shirt, courtesy of the Diocese of Venice Offices of Education and Communications.

Student Valerie Rettig said it was fun to visit the elderly in the assisted living facility stressing how important it is to reach out to others. “As ‘A Disciple of Christ’ we are each called to follow God and Jesus; working hard to be a good person and kind to everyone, not for fame or recognition, because we are all Children of God.”

Serafina Calonneso said “A Disciple of Christ” is someone who is kind and loving to everyone. “We are called to help to make the world a better place. Being “A Disciple of Christ” will help make that happen.”

Cardinal Mooney gives back

St. Mother Teresa once said, “It’s not how much we give, but how much love we put into giving.” Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School in Sarasota loves taking part in giving back to the community from serving meals to the homeless to food and toy drives.

To kick off the giving season, Mooney students and staff participated in a Thanksgiving   food drive that provided over 65 families with a full Thanksgiving meal as well as served over 200 homeless lunch in the downtown Sarasota area on Nov. 27.

The Cardinal Mooney chapter of the St. Vincent de Paul Society collected new toys to support Andrew’s Toybox and delivered them Dec. 19, just in time for Christmas, to the pediatric wards of Sarasota and Manatee Memorial Hospitals.

The 60 residents of Sunshine Meadows Nursing Home in Sarasota received items on their Christmas list Dec. 13, as part of an effort by the Cardinal Mooney staff as well as by different members of clubs on campus.

Also taking part of the giving season was the Cardinal Mooney Cougar Band which performed at the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport and University Town Center mall to help bring cheer to those travelling and shopping during the holidays.

Service in the community

Every student at Cardinal Mooney participates in giving back through community service and is required to complete 100 hours of service during their four years at the college preparatory school.

Most students have well over the 100 hours including senior Aaron Dhanhai who has 612 hours, with 550 of those hours as a volunteer at Sarasota Memorial Hospital. Junior Mallory Allbritton has more than 440 hours with Sarasota Disaster Relief Services, 4H and Future Farmers of America (FFA).  Allyson Galvin, a sophomore, has 330 hours working on various service projects with Our Lady of Angels Parish in Lakewood Ranch. Cooper Flerlage, a freshman, already has over 330 community service hours, mostly with the Sarasota County Summer Camp Program.

The family environment of Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School fosters spiritual growth and prepares all students to become servant leaders in the world by performing over 30,000 community service hours a year.

Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School, a Christ-centered, college preparatory institution is celebrating its 60th Anniversary. The school prepares students to serve and lead by nurturing spiritual growth, cultivating the talent of all students, and challenging them to pursue academic excellence.

As a nationally accredited school, Mooney is now offering the new rigorous AP Capstone diploma; as well as a full honors curriculum; Advanced Placement courses; dual enrollment; and learning strategies programs. Student-athletes participating in over 30 athletic teams have won district, sectional, and regional titles with three state titles this year. With a 100 percent acceptance rate to college, Cardinal Mooney graduates earned more than $9 million in scholarships in 2019.