by Vanessa Steger, Precious Blood Volunteer
Today, as I write this, it is the two month anniversary of my first day at Cristo Rey Kansas City High School (CRKC). When first asked to write this article, I felt I hadn’t earned the right to share my reflections on my work. Only three months ago, I spent my days in classrooms as a student at the University of Notre Dame. Now I spend my days in classrooms as a staff member at Cristo Rey Kansas City.
The Notre Dame Postgraduate Service Fair and mysterious inward promptings brought me to the Missionaries of the Precious Blood; my mechanical engineering degree brought me to Cristo Rey. The school’s 2013 strategic plan had as its first academic goal, “Develop and enhance robust curricular and co-curricular STEM (Science-Technology-Engineering-Math) programs,” and CRKC’s president had discussed getting help for these programs with our Precious Blood Volunteer Director. Come late November, there I was, an engineer in the stack of applications.
CRKC is part of the national Cristo Rey Network, 26 schools which share a mission to provide “a quality, Catholic, college preparatory education to young people who live in urban communities with limited educational options.” More than 90% of CRKC students qualify for the federal free and reduced lunch program, and their work with our corporate partners five weekdays every month partly pays their tuition. Our student body is about 60% Hispanic and 35% African American, making me part of the minority for the first time in my life. CRKC empowers students with its educational emphasis on college preparation and Corporate Work Study Program. During my first week, I heard a student complain to the assistant principal that stuffing envelopes at her corporate work study job was boring. The assistant principal replied, “And that’s why you go to college—so you can get a more interesting job.” Our college counselor announced yesterday that 100% of the Class of 2014 has been accepted into a university or community college, proving true our tagline, “A school that works.”
Since early January, I’ve spent my afternoons teaching LabVIEW programming and modifying our robot named “Tracie” with the Robotics Club. In late January, we competed in the FIRST Tech Challenge at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, a robotics competition for seventh to twelfth graders, and now we focus on building foundational programming and engineering design skills. I am the chairperson of our first ever “Puma Science Expo,” a school-wide showcase of physics, biology, chemistry, anatomy, and forensics student projects and demonstrations. I supervise seniors taking online science courses, substitute teach as necessary, and help oversee daily lunch duty. Every day, I feel grateful that Precious Blood Volunteers led me to Cristo Rey to help open doors to interesting, high demand work in STEM fields for these young people. This opportunity humbles and challenges me.
I am an engineer at heart, and engineering means solving problems to meet needs. I see many needs within this vibrant community and within myself as I work with students struggling against incredible odds in a school committed to a lofty vision: the need for faith, the need for self-assurance, the need for persistent hard work. At Cristo Rey, students can clearly see the connection between education, work, and quality of life. My own remarkable parents told me long ago they donate to inner-city Catholic schools because education is the key to ending poverty. Hand in hand, the Missionaries of the Precious Blood and Cristo Rey have brought this vision to life.
To learn more about Precious Blood Volunteers you can visit our website www.preciousbloodvolunteers.org.
by Vanessa Steger, Precious Blood Volunteer
by Br. Daryl Charron, C.PP.S., Vietnam Mission
St. Maria De Mattias wrote in one of her letters, “Do not spare yourself any fatigue. I want you to do all you can to get the poor to come and to instill into their hearts the truths of Christian Doctrine and the love of holy virtue, so that their life may be a consolation.”(Letter 892) These words of the foundress of the Adorers of the Blood of Christ still ring true through the actions of Sr. Hang Pham, ASC as she goes about her ministry of teaching poor children in remote provinces of Vietnam. Sr. Hang ministers closely with her co-worker, Duong Tran, as they carry out the mission of Ai Tam Educational Organization. They are both social workers who truly believe in what they do.
Ai Tam (Vietnamese for Loving Heart) was established in March of 2008. Its education mission is promoting education and empowering persons. Ai Tam chose to serve poor families in communities in remote provinces of Vietnam. This organization has focused on providing educational opportunities to students in these rural areas of the country. From their experience of in years of educational service, they have identified various economic difficulties and serious healthcare deprivation that affect the student’s ability to learn. Parents of these students have tried diligently for their children to accomplish their hope of completing their education. The Ai Tam staff closely works with students, families and community leaders to realize and implement educational opportunities.
Ai Tam Educational Organization believes education is a proactive way to help people gain their self-knowledge while at the same time breaking the unjust cycle of poverty. In 2008, when they first began their ministry, a report was released by the Education and Training Ministry of the government stating that there were 1.7 million illiterate people nationwide. A major hurdle on the road to combating
illiteracy is that the Government’s education budget is only enough to provide schooling for 20-25 million people, a third of the population. The country’s remaining population nearly 60 million people has not been given proper resources and opportunities to obtain an adequate education. Ai Tam strives to bridge this gap in their own way through their School Supply Program which serves over 500 students each year.
I had the privilege to volunteer for Ai Tam Educational Organization this summer as it carried out its School Supply Program. Unfortunately, I saw firsthand the effects of how these students have been oppressed under communist regime for many years. Fortunately, Ai Tam has been working to encourage and empower these families to claim their right to participate in decisions for their living conditions. It was promising to see this organization work for systemic changes through educational opportunities in order to eradicate poverty, end unjust oppression, and try to return to these people basic rights which were denied them. I am truly impressed by their ministry.
I thank the Kansas City Province for providing this organization with funding from the Human Development Fund. Ai Tam has some good ideas for the future. I especially think the mobile library project which includes the purchase of a thousand books is a worthwhile endeavor. The long-term goal of Ai Tam is to build sustainable communities, strengthen families and to empower persons by fostering self-confidence and promoting individual dignity. Staying true to this goal will continue to eradicate generational poverty through education. St. Maria De Mattias would be proud to see one of her own sisters carrying out such educational ministry today.
We join in celebrating International Women’s Day by sharing reflections from current Precious Blood Volunteers and alumnae. Enjoy!
Lota Ofodile (2017)
Leah Landry (2017)
Alia Sisson (2017)
Jade Bowman (2015)
Patricia Wood (2014)
Vanessa Steger (2014)
Nora O’Connell (2013)
Kara McNamara (2013)
Leah Yeo (2013)
Maggie Nickels (2012)
Bonnie Kane (2011)
To learn more about serving as a Precious Blood Volunteer go to our website www.preciousbloodvolunteers.org