From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Service is more than a word at St. Thomas More School

by Andrea Evans, for the Inland Register

(From the Feb. 6, 2003 edition of the Inland Register)

Fifth graders from St. Thomas More School, Spokane, live out their commitment to service by helping to prepare, and then serve, meals at the House of Charity each month. (IR photo from St. Thomas More School)

Although service is the specific theme this year for the students of St. Thomas More School in Spokane, service has been a part of life at the school for years.

Each year, all the students at St. Thomas More get a better idea of what service and charity mean. The eighth graders know it from the chores they do for the elderly; the seventh graders know it from the baby-sitting they do for St. Anne Children and Family Center; even the first-graders know it from making holiday decorations for residents of local nursing homes.

The last four years have seen students and staff take a hands-on approach to service. At that time, Doug Banks – principal now, but at the time, eighth grade teacher –instituted “Quarters for Quarters,” a year-long program that saw students collecting quarters to help build one of the living quarters at St. Margaret Shelter, which assists homeless mothers and their children. By the time the students were finished, the school had collected nearly $10,000, said Maureen Durheim, the fourth grade teacher.

The following year, sixth grade teacher Heather Graham perpetuated the hands-on notion with the Corporal Works of Mercy project. Each class adopted a project based on one of the seven Corporal Works of Mercy – for instance, a clothing drive in order to “clothe the naked.”

One of the school’s annual mainstay efforts is its participation in “100 Ways in 100 Ways,” a project which helps bring home the realities of social needs to Catholic school students. Each class chooses a charity and an item, and over a period of 100 days brings in 100 of their chosen items – jars of peanut butter, bars of soap, pairs of socks – with the items donated to the charity.

Over the years, a sense of service becomes instilled in the students, especially those in the upper grades.

“‘We are here to serve’ –That’s just so much of a mission statement that they get daily,” Durheim said.

Some of the other continuous projects the school does, which carried over from the Corporal Works of Mercy project, involve the fifth, seventh and eighth grades.

Once a month, a group of about 10 fifth graders goes to the House of Charity to help prepare and serve food to the homeless and poor, as well as clean up afterward. Fifth grade teacher Kari Layton said the work her students do makes them aware of not only economic diversity in people, but other diversities as well.

“I think it’s a real eye-opener for them,” Layton said. She also said it helps break stereotypes students may have of people who live in poverty.

Fifth-grader Brendon Myers said he, as well as all the other students in his class, has enjoyed working at the House of Charity. Myers said his service work has taught him to “be nice to people and help them when they need it.”

The seventh graders go to St. Anne Children and Family Center to baby-sit young children while the younger children’s parents receive counseling. Seventh grade teacher Rick Pelkie said the organization now depends on the consistency of his students’ help and looks forward to their monthly visits. The students also look forward to helping out.

“The kids love it,” Pelkie said. “They come back and they talk about it for a good half a day.”

The children at St. Anne also seem to enjoy the help from the students. And over time, the students can see the improvement in the parents’ lives, Pelkie said. “I think the difference it’s going to make is that they’re going to see that their actions actually do make a difference and give people a chance to improve their lives,” Pelkie said.

The eighth grade project involves helping out with Volunteer Chore Services. Once a month about half the class goes to the homes of senior citizens to help clean their houses or do yard work for them.

But it’s not always the chores the students accomplish that are appreciated most. Sometimes, it’s just the company of the students for which the seniors are most grateful.

From the outside service and charity work the school does, the greater community sees St. Thomas More’s willingness to help.

“It allows the community to see what the kids are doing and what kind of students St. Thomas More is turning out,” said eighth grade teacher Kim Worley.

Sometimes the opportunity to help comes up unexpectedly. Such was the case in December, when a representative of St. Margaret Shelter came to speak at the school.

She mentioned a boy at the shelter who wished to throw a Christmas party for all the shelter residents. Seeing an opportunity to help, the school took charge.

“They didn’t ask us for a thing,” Pelkie said. But the fifth through eighth grades donated all the items the boy needed to give the residents a party. Students brought in gifts, food, a Christmas tree, decorations – all the items the boy could ask for to give his friends a Christmas party, and make his wish come true.

Even the younger students are given opportunities to go out into the community and serve others. For instance, every year on St. Patrick’s Day, the second-graders visit area nursing homes and bring their “crazy hat day” to the residents. The children make and wear goofy hats for the residents to enjoy, and also sing for them, said second grade teacher Suzy Donovan. Other classes visit different retirement and nursing homes throughout the year and bring the residents holiday decorations and greeting cards and sing for them as well.

After visiting the nursing homes, Donovan said that on a beginning level, the younger children understand that there are a lot of things in their world to be thankful for.

In order to make all the outside service and charity work possible, the school relies on the help of the many parent volunteers, who seem to love the work as much as the students do.

Dawn Donahoo, who has two students at the school, is among the parent volunteers. She has driven groups of students to different charities, such as the House of Charity and nursing homes. Along side her two daughters, Donahoo also helped with the Christmas party at St. Margaret Shelter. She recalled her children expressing how good they felt to help out that day on their way back to school.

“As a parent, you live for that kind of stuff,” Donahoo said.

All the giving and helping the students have done has not gone unnoticed. For their community service, the entire school was awarded a Chase Youth Award last year. The award was prompted by a letter a parent wrote to the Chase Youth Commission, describing all the projects and work the school does. When presented the award, every student’s name was read off, Durheim said.

This year, in addition to continuing their outside work, students are learning in the classroom about ministries of the Church.

Each month, students study something different. One month they learned about vocations of the church and researched the orders of nuns and priests. Another month, to supplement the lesson on charity groups, a guest speaker came in to talk about the poor and how much money it takes to get by. January’s focus is on senior citizens, while in February, students will learn about liturgical ministries. In March they will study service groups, and in April and May they will focus on the Immaculate Heart Retreat Center and other groups.

When students leave St. Thomas More, the hope is that all the service and charity work they’ve done over the years will have created a habit of giving and serving others.

“It plants those seeds for when they get a little bit older,” Nokes said.

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