One of my favorite parts of studying and teaching literature is making connections between the text and current events and themes in our world today. One of my favorite poems that almost instantly comes to mind is “I Hear America Singing” by Walt Whitman. His words, which begin and end with “I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear…Singing with open mouths their strong melodious songs,” show how each individual’s hard work joins together to create one great and diverse country. These words especially resonate with me this week as our country remembered the sacrifice of our servicemen and women on Veterans Day. Whether it is serving in the armed forces, at a local church, a food bank, or giving a year to serve in vulnerable and marginalized communities, our country’s generosity with service is what makes America great.
Regardless of one’s skill and passion, the simplest act of service to another, to me, is the sincerest form of gratitude for all of the gifts we have received. While we often hear about stories of violence and sadness in the news, how often do we act on the words of the television icon Mr. Fred Rogers when he comforted television viewers by telling them to “look for the helpers.” I was blessed to have received a Catholic education since first grade, and I felt called to become a teacher and a Lasallian Volunteer as a way to give back for all that my teachers and the Christian Brothers gave me throughout my childhood. I think it is safe to say that many of my fellow Lasallian Volunteers have similar thoughts, and whether they are serving in Chicago, Tucson, Philadelphia, or even Bethlehem, we are all here to serve the students entrusted to our care.
I am serving at DeLaSalle High School in Minneapolis, a coeducational school with 750 diverse and extremely talented students. I am working in the Learning Center with students who need extra academic support and learning accommodations to help them achieve their short- and long-term goals. I meet with my students for individual support on a weekly basis depending on the level of need, and I often find myself out of the office to check up on students in their natural school environments and to support them in their classrooms. My belief is that my calling in this role is to not sit behind a desk all day, but rather take advantage of every opportunity to make a positive impact on a student, especially those who struggle most. The most rewarding part of my service here is seeing a student motivated and confident that they can succeed and master their material, and the glimmer in their eyes when they finally get a concept motivates me in my role.
I also serve in Lasallian Ministry where I help plan diverse programs to support our students’ academic and spiritual growth. For seven years, I have served in several parishes as a CCD teacher where I educated young children about their Catholic faith and finding Jesus in the seven sacraments. My work in Lasallian Ministry allows me to use my creativity and love of the Church to get students involved in the spiritual component of our Catholic and Lasallian school. We recently celebrated All Saints Day as a school community and incorporated elements of Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) into our prayer space. As with many Catholic schools today, a portion of our student body is either not Catholic or not religious, but I used our school Mass to get all students involved in our liturgy in a different way. Our graphic design class created and our Spanish classes colored “papel picado” (traditional Mexican banners). In addition, our art classes created mini-ofrendas out of shoeboxes to remember their loved ones, our art club made flowers out of tissue paper, and the school community was invited to bring in pictures of family and friends who have died for our community ofrenda table.
Seeing our students and staff come together as one community while doing even small actions of kindness helps me remember the good that still exists in our world and why service is so important. While a convenient opportunity since I recently graduated from college and am not burdened with as many challenges as my peers, my year here at DeLaSalle High School is allowing me to give back and contribute to the song of America that Walt Whitman wrote about many years ago. Together, and by association, our “voices” and acts of service to others come together as one great country.
Joseph Samuel Rogers is a first-year LV serving at DeLaSalle High School in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is a 2014 graduate of Central Catholic High School in Pittsburgh and 2018 graduate of La Salle University in Philadelphia, both proud Lasallian institutions.