This school year, René Howard-Páez, my former Chicago Public Schools student (and someone who also grew up in Little Village), completed a volunteer year at Boston's Cristo Rey High School. From his Facebook posts, I see how comfortable René is in his role as advisor and mentor. René's school is lucky to host such an admirable young man--no--he's no longer a young man or the teenager I taught. René has grown into an admirable man who is inspiring young people to believe in themselves and succeed. This is René's reflection:
This year of service has not been easy, but it has been rewarding in ways I probably do not yet fully understand. My main role has been working in the admissions office, but my involvement stretched far beyond that.
The most memorable aspects of this year have not been the practical lessons learned, or the professional skills I gained. Instead, every great memory involves the students. Many students we work with come from broken, single parent, financially unstable homes. Most of them forget how to love themselves or how to love others. These students are lacking life, which is why we give them our own.
In our admissions talk to 8th grade classrooms, we focus on the idea that students need to choose a high school that will allow them to re-discover the beauty of their lives. Our central focus is to show them that graduating high school, finishing college and finding a good job will not improve their lives. Instead, their lives can be improved at this moment, by realizing that they are already great the way they are.
During difficult and stressful times this year, I have asked myself, “why am I doing this?” Mundane tasks can sometimes seem unnecessary, or make me feel as though I am simply being utilized. During these moments, I remember that these small tasks are a part of something larger. I may not enjoy scanning, filing and organizing over 300 files of potential students. I also may not enjoy washing dishes, but these tasks are not about me, but about what we are giving to the students. Many things during my volunteer year may not have brought me happiness, but they have brought me joy.
Coming into the year, I knew no one in Boston, knew none of the students or their families. Fast forward to May and I feel like I have been here for a few years. There are families I have grown very close to, especially those that have children attending CRB next year; some even recently invited me over for dinner. An awesome example of the culmination of my year can be seen through my two new goddaughters, freshmen at my school, who were recently baptized, received their first communion and will soon be confirmed. Had anyone told me any of this a year ago in college, I may have thought them to be a bit crazy.
This experience has been momentous thus far, and I cannot believe it is coming to an end. This year has had such an impact on me that I am inclined to return for another one.
This reflection originally appeared on Cristo Rey Boston High School's site.
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