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Draper Journal

Juan Diego students learn compassion through serving community

Mar 07, 2023 04:07PM ● By Julie Slama

Two Juan Diego Catholic High seniors volunteered a week at the Utah Community Action Center. (Photo courtesy of Juan Diego Catholic High School)

For a week this winter, more than 150 Juan Diego Catholic High School seniors had the real world as their classroom.

During the week, the students provided service to about 30 different agencies from senior and veterans’ centers to children’s services to those experiencing homelessness, said Michelle Moynihan, Juan Diego’s coordinator of Christian service. 

“We encourage students to challenge themselves, to serve outside of their comfort zones,” she said. “We’ve had students who have worked at Sandy Senior Center, Sunrise Senior Living and a veterans’ home and adult care center. They’ve worked with Strides Pediatric Therapy in Eagle Mountain and with students at Jordan Valley and Kauri Sue Hamilton schools. We have students working with Catholic Community Services and with St. Vincent de Paul, with people experiencing homelessness. Our students help at the Boys & Girls Club and the Neighborhood House and a wide variety of places.”

The school matches students with an agency, usually one of the top three choices a student will select. Many seniors will carpool to the site for the week.

“We encourage them to ask previous students about places they’ve volunteered, to look through the senior service project book where they can see the agencies and learn what they do, the clients they serve, and what typical service they may do onsite,” Moynihan said.

Many of the organizations have been a part of service week since it started in 2016, a change from Juan Diego students just clocking in service hours during the year. Some agencies have reached out wanting to be added, including alumni who have started their own businesses.

“With the Juan Diego’s spirit of giving, we decided that it could be a better experience than just having service hours where they just checked the box for maybe serving one hour at this place and another hour later. So, we dedicated a week of 40 hours their senior year to service. Overwhelmingly, it’s because of what the seniors say when they’re finished, that we keep it this way. Many times, they’ll return to say, ‘I’ve changed my mind about what I want to be’ or ‘I’ve learned a lot about myself through this.’ Many will want to continue volunteering because they care, and we see the change it makes. It helps them to become people who care about their community and want to serve it. Sometimes, it will even turn into internships or jobs for our students,” she said.

Moynihan said through volunteerism, students become more responsible citizens. 

“We want to graduate people who are caring and compassionate and wanting to serve. They may recognize that there are people in their own communities who may be facing things that they will never face. It’s a way to get our students a little bit outside of themselves and to recognize that they can support and go and serve,” she said.

During the service, students write about their experiences.

“We ask them to write every day about what they did and what it meant to them. We give them questions like on the first day, ‘what were you nervous about and how did it turn out?’ or on the last day, ‘what surprised you and what was your favorite experience and why?’” Moynihan said.

The following week, students will debrief in class and each student will write a two-page capstone paper about their service as well as a thank-you note to the agency.

The final part of the service week is a dinner celebration where some student will share and reflect about their time and the stories of what they experienced with classmates, parents and school representatives.

“It’s rewarding watching the seniors just really come into themselves,” Moynihan said. “I had the privilege of getting to visiting every single senior on site this year and seeing their caring on their faces and watching them interact with the people that they’re serving. For me it’s a gift, and it’s just a really beautiful thing for them and for our community.”