When Vanessa Steger graduated from Notre Dame in December with a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering and a B.A. in History, she already had a job offer and second interviews with some of the world’s largest companies. But she wanted something more.
“Mysterious inward promptings drew me to the Missionaries of the Precious Blood and Kansas City after attending the Fall Postgraduate Service Fair,” said Steger, who is from St. Louis.
Steger’s volunteer calling took her to Cristo Rey Kansas City (CRKC) where she shares her passion for science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) with urban high school students.
“I was looking for something immediately after graduation and the Precious Blood Volunteer program had the flexibility to accommodate my schedule,” she said. Also appealing was one of Cristo Rey’s 2013 Strategic Plan goals: Develop and enhance robust curricular and co-curricular STEM programs.
Located in Midtown Kansas City, Missouri, CRKC is one of 26 Catholic, college preparatory high schools in the Cristo Rey Network. CRKC serves a culturally diverse student body with high economic needs and limited educational opportunities. “A school that works,” CRKC offers an innovative Corporate Work Study Program to offset tuition costs where students gain real-world work experience. The school also boasts a 100 percent college acceptance rate.
“These kids really want to be here,” said Steger. “97 percent of boys and girls attending Cristo Rey qualify for the federal free and reduced lunch program. Our student body is about 60 percent Hispanic and 35 percent African American, many of which are first generation immigrants.”
Precious Blood Volunteers receive a small stipend while living with priests and other volunteers at Gaspar Mission House. As a group they share morning prayers, dinners, stories, all while developing bonds that will last a lifetime. Community living is a central part of the experience of being a Precious Blood Volunteer.
“Being at the mercy of a bus schedule and listening to the daily conversations of other riders, especially those struggling to find work, puts life into perspective,” she said. “I’m also realizing I can live off very little. My true needs are easier to see when those material extras are unavailable.”
Gaspar Mission House is in a unique, yet safe, environment to grasp the true essence of Kansas City’s engaging community and rich history, explained Steger. A couple of blocks in one direction will take you to a nice middle class neighborhood, while just east is the racial dividing line of Troost Avenue.
“When I talk to my friends who pursued employment straight out of college, I don’t get the feeling that their work gives them joy. I’m blessed my volunteer experience gives me joy every day.” she continued.
Most of her eight-hour day at Cristo Rey is spent “creating a safe space” for students to learn. As a STEM volunteer and coordinator, Steger coaches the Robotics Club and supervises seniors taking online science courses. She recently chaired CRKC’s first-ever Science Expo. Filling in as a substitute teacher two to three times a week, Steger also has daily lunch room monitoring duties. Before the end of her placement in June, she is designing a plan for a city-wide STEM summer camp program for CRKC.
“This experience has given me a way to put my faith into action,” said Steger. “I have had the privilege of learning so many of these kids’ stories and to hear how they suffer in ways I can only imagine.” Through firsthand knowledge, she is discovering that education can break the cycle of poverty in our country.
“None of us have all the answers to life,” she concluded. “Money isn’t everything. Building character and defining life skills are the things that will truly carry you through life. If you don’t quite know what you are looking for, and this sounds challenging and scary at the same time, chances are the Precious Blood Volunteer program is for you. I would make the same choice a million times over!”
For more information on Cristo Rey volunteer opportunities or other Missionaries of the Precious Blood placements in Kansas City, visit www.preciousbloodvolunteers.org or contact Tim Deveney, firstname.lastname@example.org; (816) 781-4344.