by Ryan W. Cornelissen, Precious Blood Volunteer
As a full-time volunteer, there is always a sense of give and take that exists between a volunteer and the organization. You aren’t the “go-to” person for any particular thing, but at the same time people seem to “go to” you for nearly everything. At Cristo Rey Kansas City High School I am volunteering outside my field of civil engineering, but every day I seem to find new opportunities to give the best of myself to the school. That being said, the experience continually opens my eyes and humbles my heart to see the students living in more difficult situations than anything I’ve ever known. As the holidays draw near, thanks and giving are two themes in the minds and hearts of most people (I hope!). The following reflection of my volunteer experience thus far is a collection of thanks and giving, the give and take of my time at Cristo Rey.
First of all, I am thankful for the Precious Blood and Cristo Rey communities that have welcomed me to Kansas City. Without these people I would not physically here today. I am thankful for Fr. John Foley and the other Chicago Jesuits who in 1996 stood up for one of the core values of their society by seeking to provide education to those in need; thus the birth of Cristo Rey schools. I am thankful for the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth who took the risk of opening a Cristo Rey school in Kansas City. I am thankful for the faculty who took on pay cuts, new subjects, a longer school day, a longer school year and additional responsibilities to support the mission and students of the Cristo Rey Network.
On a more personal level, I am thankful for the students. Even though all the students live in financially strained homes, they don’t walk around the school sulking in their problems or complaining about how hard their life is. Would I be able to do that? I recently started driving buses to help relieve a temporary driver shortage. I have the unique opportunity to walk through a full day in the life of a student. I pick up the first student in Kansas City, Kansas around 6:10AM and usually get them home around 5:30PM. This schedule does not include extra curricular activities, sports, or the time needed to do homework. Would I be able to do that for four years?
I am thankful for the safe neighborhood I live in here, and the safety I have taken for granted all my life. Students in my advisory and on the volleyball team I helped coach cannot go for a walk or run after school to dissipate stress because their neighborhoods are too dangerous. I am thankful I have never once had to worry about where my next meal is coming from. Luckily, Cristo Rey Kansas City provides a hot breakfast, lunch and after school snack for students each day. The reality is that some students may not eat in the time between leaving school and showing up the next day. What would I be like during the day if I had to live that life? I am most thankful for the motivated, dedicated, smiling, happy students who show up each day ready to do something for their future. That determination is something that no one else can give them.
As I realize how completely different my reality is from the life of these students, I ask myself, what can I give them? Sure sometimes it comes in the form of homework help or explaining a difficult math problem, but I think the greatest need does not surface in academics. I can give the students my time. I can give students my ears to listen to them when it may feel like no one is listening. I can show students what it’s like to have someone believe in them. I can do my best to show students forgiveness and kindness, maybe for the first time on a regular basis. I cannot give students a diploma, a steady family life, or money and food to support them, but I can give the gifts and talents God has given me.