In this month’s “Ministry of the Month,” the District of San Francisco New Orleans is featured. The ministry is De La Salle Academy (DLSA) in Concord, California, and the Lasallian Volunteers are Ashley Weinburger, 17-19, and Julia Mach, 18-19. Ashley attended La Salle University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Julia attended Lewis University in Romeoville, Illinois. Ashley and Julia focus on how service and community help them continue their love for the Lasallian mission fostered during their college experiences.

WHAT IS DE LA SALLE ACADEMY?

De La Salle Academy is a middle school for boys of academic promise from low-income families in the greater Concord area. The San Miguel-model school is grounded in the belief that a well-ordered and rigorous education is a key to breaking the cycle of poverty. Such an education can prepare students to live meaningful and productive lives and to recognize and fulfill their obligation to contribute to the well-being of the larger community. By focusing on students during their formative years, De La Salle Academy helps boys to lay a foundation upon which to build future success. Like other Lasallian Miguel-model schools, De La Salle Academy culture emphasizes citizenship, service and responsibility in a loving learning environment created by a skilled faculty and staff. At De La Salle Academy, attention is consistent, expectations are high, and each boy’s talents are recognized and nurtured, so that students can grow into young men with a positive vision for the future and with the skills to make their vision a reality. By providing opportunities for creativity and exploration, and for leadership and accountability, the academy orients students toward the pursuit of excellence in everything they undertake.

WHAT IS THE SERVICE THAT ASHLEY AND JULIA PROVIDE AT DLSA?

Ashley is the 5th and 6th grade science teacher, the 6th grade English language arts (ELA) teacher, and the mentor program facilitator. Each student at DLSA has an adult mentor who follows them through their years in the school. Ashley pairs students and mentors. Julia is the ELA support teacher for the 5th, 7th, and 8th grades. She also supervises physical education for the 6th and 8th grade students and is the coordinator for DLSA’s tutoring program. This program invites people from the community to come to DLSA and share their wisdom with the young men after instruction is over for the day. They help with homework, reading and other skills.

WHY DID JULIA AND ASHLEY DECIDE TO JOIN LASALLIAN VOLUNTEERS?

Both Julia and Ashley went to Lasallian universities, where their love for mission was nurtured in the classroom and through service opportunities. It seemed natural to them to continue their discernment as educators by joining the Lasallian Volunteers. Julia says, “I decided to become a Lasallian Volunteer because I wanted to grow as an educator and what better way to grow as an educator than to be surrounded by people who dedicate their lives to educating the poor. I also wanted to be a Lasallian Volunteer because I knew the experience I gained through the program would not compare if I just took a teaching job outside of college.” Ashley found out about the program from recruiting efforts at La Salle. She says, “I was initially attracted to the Lasallian Volunteers because a current volunteer came and talked about it in my class. Since I am an education major, I thought about it but wanted to do an international program. Then I received an email about volunteering in Jamaica and the rest is history.”

WHAT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING THAT THESE VOLUNTEERS OFFER TO THE STUDENTS ENTRUSTED TO THEIR CARE?

Both volunteers have education as their majors. As important as it is that they are trained teachers, each young woman recognizes that teaching subject matter – while important – is not their only job. They have to instill confidence in the young men entrusted to their care and show them that they are loved. Ashley says, “Getting to touch the hearts of children and families in a very unique way is what makes being a Lasallian Volunteer so special. The most important thing my students need from me is quality education and my support. With these two things, I can help my students to become the best that they can be.” Julia agrees when she says, “As it is often said at my site ‘everyone has a story.’ The most important thing a student needs from me – besides an education – is to know that I believe in them. No matter what they say or do, against all odds, someone still believes in them, cares for them, and wants what is best for them.”

HOW HAVE JULIA AND ASHLEY’S EXPERIENCE LIVING WITH THE DE LA SALLE CHRISTIAN BROTHERS IMPACTED THEIR EXPERIENCE AS LASALLIAN VOLUNTEERS?

Both volunteers attended Lasallian universities and had contact with Brothers prior to volunteering. Their understanding of community life and the religious life the Brothers live deepened when they chose to be Lasallian Volunteers. Julia says, “I have learned how to begin to anticipate the needs of others and to understand why they choose to live together in a community. You are not going to see eye-to-eye with everyone in community but the Brothers are there to support you, give you advice and provide some witty commentary when a laugh or pun is needed.” As a 2nd year, Ashley echoes this and says, “My involvement with the Brothers has made me a better person. I have become more responsible and more giving than I have ever been. I strive to make others happy and tend to worry about my needs less.”

WHAT WOULD JULIA AND ASHLEY TELL COLLEGE SENIORS THINKING ABOUT THE LASALLIAN VOLUNTEERS PROGRAM?

Ashley and Julia both highly encourage college seniors to think about a year of service with Lasallian Volunteers! Ashley says, “It will be the best yearof your life! You think that when you decide to do a year of service that you will only being giving your whole self for an entire year, but you receive a lot too. You receive experience, knowledge, lifelong relationships and unconditional love, along with giving so much of yourself to others.” Julia agrees with her community member when she says, “It will be the best decision you ever made as a soon-to-be college graduate.”