Monthly Archives: October 2016


Matt Billings: Volunteer and Athlete

As the rain falls on the cold and brisk October morning, New York is blissfully unaware of the whole new world that I am in. I am surrounded by 12,000 other runners. You can hear the complaining and agony of people all around as they are preparing for a miserable run with unfavorable conditions. Me, on the other hand, I am in the zone. I have isolated myself from the crowd, I’ve even ignored the multiple phone calls from people attempting to wish me good luck. I am completely and utterly focused.

Matt Billings, 15-17, La Salle Academy, New York, NY

Matt Billings, 15-17, La Salle Academy, New York, NY

I toe the start line with knots in my stomach, this is more than just a race for me. This is the accumulation of months of training for me to step back into the racing world, and I had every intention to step back in on a good note. The pressure for me was rising.

Moments before the start, everything slows down. I feel each rain droplet hitting me, I can feel the wind against my skin and the goosebumps starting to rise. It was at this instant that I knew I was ready. Every worry faded away as the trigger was being pulled, and off I went; to run each step of this grueling 13.1 mile race.

It’s now mile 8 and at the point I can feel my legs cramping and my lungs starting to burn. I no longer have feeling in my finger tips from the rain and the cold. I was almost ready to give up, but as I am thinking to myself “why, why am I doing this?” an alarm goes off in my head, “rise and shine”.

Its 5am and my hand can’t make it to the alarm clock before the voices in my head start telling me that it’s too early, too dark and too cold to get out of bed. My aching muscles lie still in rebellion pretending not to hear my brain commanding them to move. A legion of voices are shouting their unanimous permission for me to hit that snooze button and go back to dreamland. But I didn’t ask for their opinion.

matt-runningThe voice I have chosen to listen to is one of defiance. The voice that says there was a reason I set that alarm in the first place. The voice that says, “Welcome to the grind.”

These voices were the people of my community, my coworkers, and my friends unified and supportive of me. Telling me that I was insane, but brave for running 50-70 miles a week, for waking up at 5am to train in Central Park with my team, and for making the commitment to do this.

But the loudest voice that rings out to me was that of my students. From the cross country student-athlete that would challenge me to push myself just as much as I push him in the class to the students that came to watch me on that cold, brisk morning. I never realized, that as a volunteer, that my students would have such an impact on me.

With each step comes the decision to take another.  I am on my way now, but this is no time to dwell on how far I’ve come, but instead to reflect on where I am. To reflect on the how I have not only made an impact but how my students, my coworkers, and my community have made an impact on me. Take a moment to stop and let it all sink in.

Matt Billings is a second year LV serving at La Salle Academy in New York, NY.  He is a graduate of Christian Brothers University in Memphis, Tennessee.


By |October 19th, 2016|Categories: blog, news + events|Comments Off on Matt Billings: Volunteer and Athlete

Kacie Kusinski: Holy Ground

As I walk through the Tenderloin district of San Francisco to work every day, I can’t help but hear the lyrics to “Holy Ground” by Christopher Beatty run through my head. “This is Holy Ground. We’re standing on Holy Ground. The Lord is present, and where He is, is holy.”

Kacie Kusinski, 15-17, De Marillac Academy, San Francisco, CA

Kacie Kusinski, 15-17, De Marillac Academy, San Francisco, CA

The Tenderloin is a little rough around the edges. As my fellow LV and I dodge discarded needles and piles of human feces day after day on the hustle to work every morning, it becomes very easy to pass right by the homeless people and makeshift beds lining every street without a second thought. Oftentimes we are on a mission to get from point A to point B without noticing our surroundings.  I’ll admit, sometimes I need to remind myself to pay attention to what is actually happening on my walk to work. And when I take a moment to really look around me, I see more than drug deals and homelessness. I see God.

I see God in the homeless who give me a smile, nod and say “God bless” as I walk by.

I see God in the crossing guards who know Abbey and I by name and hug us, without fail.

I see God in the students at De Marillac who see the world with a lens of hope, joy, and compassion.

I see God in the familiar faces of the Tenderloin community that ask me how my day is going every time I run into them.

I see God in my students who have experienced more difficulty and struggle in their short lives than I ever have, but still come to school every day with a huge smile and a positive attitude.

I see God in the ministries in the Tenderloin that provide services to those who need it. I see God in the people who work at these ministries who humbly give of themselves in the service of others.

I see God in my coworkers who commute by BART every single day to De Marillac. Sometimes my quick walk to work can seem daunting, but then I remember everyone at DMA who sits on a crowded bus or train every morning and afternoon, just to wake up and do it all over again the next day.

I see God in the people on the street who smile at my students as we walk across the street to P.E. and remind them how blessed they are to be getting an education.

I even see God in the drug deals that happen on the corner, because although I may not know why or how, I know that God is working in each of their lives, and I know that every human being is still a beloved child of God.

kacie-blogThe Tenderloin may appear a little rough around the edges. But the Tenderloin, at its core, is a place of hope. It is home to some pretty incredible people; some pretty amazing things are happening in this place that can be described as “one of the poorest neighborhoods in San Francisco.” From the outside, many people would say the Tenderloin could never be “holy ground” because it is so full of addiction, poverty, and despair. But what those people don’t see, is the hope, the love, the community within the Tenderloin. That is what makes the Tenderloin holy ground. People will say to me, “You’re volunteering? Good for you, you’re doing great things for that community!” When in fact, it is the other way around. This community is doing great things for me. Every day I go to work at DMA and I feel so blessed to be part of something so much larger than myself. Most days I am still in awe to be part of a school community that is so dedicated to not just the students, but the community around it as well. I feel incredibly blessed just to know my dedicated coworkers, and the hardworking families that send their children to De Marillac for a holistic, life-changing education. Being a part of this community is a blessing every single day.

Every day that I walk through the Tenderloin to De Marillac, I feel God’s presence. I can physically feel that I am walking on Holy Ground. Because “the Lord is present, and where He is, is holy.”

Kacie Kusinski is a 2nd year LV serving at De Marillac Academy in San Francisco, California and is a 2015 graduate of Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota.

By |October 6th, 2016|Categories: blog, news + events|Comments Off on Kacie Kusinski: Holy Ground

FSC Awards Honor SFNO Lasallians

In a celebration that acknowledged the accomplishments of the honorees but also gave life to the history and significance of the program, Lasallian Volunteers (LV) honored three supporters with the 2016 FSC Awards.

The FSC Awards honor Lasallians who have made notable contributions to the program. In this seventh year for the awards, LV honored three Lasallians from the District of San Francisco New Orleans (SFNO) in a ceremony held October 1, 2016, at Saint Mary’s College of California in Moraga, which sponsored the event.

Award recipients, from left, Carole Swain, Br. Jonathan Cord, FSC and Marilyn Paquette

Award recipients, from left, Carole Swain, Br. Jonathan Cord, FSC, and Marilyn Paquette

The awards are named in the spirit of three Brothers who embodied the LV values of faith, service and community during their lifetimes. This year’s recipients are: Brother Jonathan Cord, FSC, the Farrell Community Award; Marilyn Paquette, the Bassen Service Award; and Dr. Carole Swain, the Johnston Faith Award.

The Farrell Community Award, named in honor of Brother Michael Farrell, FSC (1940-2009), recognizes supporters who have lived in community with Lasallian Volunteers. Brother Jonathan was honored with this award to celebrate the strong and positive impact he has had on LVs he has lived with in the San Miguel Community in Tucson, Arizona, and the De La Salle Christian Brothers Community in Portland, Oregon. Brother Jonathan is the office manager for the Corporate Work Study Program at San Miguel High School in Tucson, where he has lived and worked since 2009.

“His attention to the little things of community life make it a place of hospitality and formation for the LVs and Brothers,” said Brother James Joost, FSC, Auxiliary Visitor for the District of San Francisco New Orleans, who presented the award to Brother Jonathan.

The Bassen Service Award, named in honor of Brother Christopher Bassen, FSC (1942-2006), recognizes LV alumni who have continued a life of service. Paquette received this award to highlight her continued service to the mission and LV program as board member, site director and mentor. She is principal of De La Salle Academy in Concord, California, a San Miguel model school she helped start in 2014.

Brother Lawrence Goyette, FSC, presented the award to Paquette and praised her longtime dedication to the mission.

 “One of her seventh graders in Concord recently said, ‘You have given your life and heart for me all for all my brothers at DLSA. We don’t always say it but we all appreciate what you do for us,’” Brother Lawrence said. “We all appreciate the passion and dedication that Marilyn Paquette puts into her ministry as a Lasallian educator par excellence.”

The Johnston Faith Award, named in honor of Brother John Johnston, FSC (1933-2007), recognizes supporters who have demonstrated great faith in the work of LVs by sharing time, talent or treasure. Swain received this award because of the support she has given to every facet of the LV program, from recruitment to LV Scholars. Swain is vice president for mission at Saint Mary’s College of California and directs the Masters of Arts in Education with an emphasis on Lasallian Students and the Lasallian Educator Fellowship programs.

Karin McClelland, LV 90-92, who presented the award to Swain, said, “Carole has also been one who has understood what a powerful Lasallian formation opportunity the LV program has been to hundreds of participants and found creative ways to keep LVs engaged in the Lasallian Educational Mission after their service.”

Recipients are selected on a rotating basis between the Districts in the Lasallian Region of North America (RELAN). The 2017 recipients will be selected from the District of Eastern North America.



By |October 4th, 2016|Categories: news + events|Comments Off on FSC Awards Honor SFNO Lasallians

October 2016: De La Salle Blackfeet School

In this month’s Lasallian Volunteers “Ministry of the Month,” we are highlighting a ministry of the Midwest District. The Lasallian Volunteers serving at De La Salle Blackfeet School (DLSBS) in Browning, Montana are all 2nd years and are Ruth Ficaro, Jon Ficaro and Matt Loudon. Ruth and Jon are graduates of Lewis University. Jon in 2007 and in 2014 and Ruth graduated in 2011. Matt is a 2015 graduate from Saint Mary’s College of California.

WHAT IS DE LA SALLE BLACKFEET SCHOOL? De La Salle Blackfeet School is a San Miguel-model middle school located on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation in Browning, Montana. As a San Miguel school, it shares many of the same qualities that our other San Miguel Schools do: small class sizes, non-tuition driven, extended day, extended year, with a culturally sensitive, student centered curriculum for middle school students that allows for greater success. What makes DLSBS unique is it is the only San Miguel School in our Region in a rural area and the first serving primarily Native Americans.

Ruth with De La Salle students and LV Alum Gio Palacio

Ruth with DLSBS students and LV Alum Gio Palacio

WHAT IS THE SERVICE THAT MATT, RUTH, AND JON PROVIDE? Ruth serves as the 7th grade homeroom teacher, and teaches 8th grade Language Arts and Reading. She is also in charge of the writing curriculum for 7th and 8th grade Language Arts and Reading. Matt serves as the 5th grade homeroom teacher and teaches 4th and 5th grade Social Studies. He also teaches 6th, 7th, and 8th grade Math and serves as the Rugby Coach. In addition to these duties, Matt offers after-school math help and is a chaperone for extra-curricular activities that the school offers. Matt and Ruth are joined by Jon Ficaro, Ruth’s husband. Jon serves as the 8th grade homeroom teacher, and he teaches 8th grade Social Studies, 6th grade Religion, and 5th grade Health & Wellness; he also teaches an enrichment course called Community of Inquiry. Jon also plays the important role of being the Immersion Program Director, guiding over 30 groups of high school and college groups who come to volunteer at DLSBS.

HOW DO THESE LASALLIAN VOLUNTEERS TOUCH MINDS AND HEARTS AT THEIR SERVICE SITE? The city of Browning is located in one of the poorest in our nation. The per capita income on the reservation is less than $12,000. Because of this, the people have fallen victim to all the problems that poverty lays at their feet: chronic unemployment, hunger, poor housing, domestic violence, and drug and alcohol dependency. The Blackfeet are a proud people who are determined to create a better future for their children. As Ruth notes, “Many of the students on the reservation are living in situations that do not provide stability and it brings me joy to offer something so simple to their lives. Part of being present is making sure my students feel heard, that can be as easy as making sure to check in with a student who really needs a conversation before morning assembly or greeting a student every day no matter what the response. Giving them the opportunity to write and express themselves in class has been such a mutual experience of teaching.”

Jon with DLSBS students in Chicago

Jon with DLSBS students in Chicago

HOW ARE FAITH, SERVICE, AND COMMUNITY A LIVED REALITY FOR THESE VOLUNTEERS AT THIS MINISTRY? So much of the work of a volunteer doesn’t just take place in the classroom or office setting, but extends beyond that into the future of the students and clients of our volunteers. As the 8th grade homeroom teacher, Jon begins and ends his day with his group of twelve 8th grade students, who will be making the transition to the public high school next year. He and the other faculty, staff, and volunteers at DLSBS prepare the 8th grade to make this transition from the Catholic school environment to public school and celebrate their achievement with a class trip which the community fundraises for throughout the year. Last year they fundraised for a trip to Chicago, Illinois and visited another San Miguel school in the Back of the Yards community where they met with their 8th grade students and shared each other’s culture. The students from DLSBS also visited museums and the zoo, tourist sites (The Bean, Willis Tower, Water Tower Place) Notre Dame University, and Lewis University. Jon explained the impact it had on him when he says,“The opportunity to lead these students in an unfamiliar setting, seeing the awe in their eyes inspired by the experiences, and to watch their transformation into young adults ready for the challenges ahead was itself a transformational experience as their teacher.” One of the most unique parts of DLSBS is that a majority of the faculty and staff are volunteers. This gift of self inspires our volunteers in their prayer and faith life. Ruth notes, “The Lasallian value of service is lived every day at DLSBS, there is not a moment of the day that cannot be in service to your students, community members and peers. God is always present.”

Because Browning is such a small town and in such remote area; the next “big city,” is two hours or more away, community plays a huge role in the lives of our Lasallian Volunteers. The volunteers are extremely involved in the lives of not just the kids but also the lives of the families. Matt shared, “I may not recognize everyone in town, but I can be fairly certain they recognize me. Accordingly, I must always be sure to behave in a way that best represents the school, both on and off campus. We are a temple in this community and, whether I like it or not, I have become a column. DLSBS is a community within a community. We hope to be the fire that casts light on the darkest corners of town. Within a community as sacred as ours, service and faith are intrinsically attached.”


Faith is such an important aspect of the volunteer experience. Community prayer, mass, and the personal journey are all aspects of the volunteer year(s). As Gerard Manley Hopkins famously declared, “The world is charged with the grandeur of God,” and it is clear that our volunteers find God in their service. Jon says, “I had a holy moment with one of my 6th grade students who I asked to stay after school to work on homework. As we went through each assignment, I helped him draw the answers out of the text and we talked about how he wanted to make sure that he brought his grades up to be eligible to participate in sports. Even though we finished the work he needed to complete, we still ended up talking more about what he wanted to be when he grew up than we did about each assignment. Once again I found myself in the place where you are mindful of the moment and we can’t help but see God in that place.”


Our current volunteer cohort is so passionate about the program and have so many positive things to share with young people thinking about giving a year or years to serve with us. Jon had this to say about his years in Montana, “Since coming to DLSBS last year, during the school year, the summer, and the beginning of this year, I have had the opportunity to be a part of something truly special, inspirational, and transformative. All I had to do was answer the call to service.” Ruth recommends the program as well as she believes that there is a special opportunity for growth with support that the Lasallian Volunteers provides through community life with the Brothers, the alumni network, and the closeness of the people in the cohort. She articulates this so well when she says, “The changes and transitions of adult life can be overwhelming however, to be able to do so in a supportive environment while learning about and serving is an experience that you may never have again. Lasallian Volunteers gives you the unique moment to grow by helping others and in turn, discover yourself.”



By |October 3rd, 2016|Categories: lv of the month, news + events|Comments Off on October 2016: De La Salle Blackfeet School