Making A Difference For Students

For many high school students it’s hard to imagine how different life is in another country, let alone how difficult life is for young adults in some countries. This year, two groups of CJ students have made it their mission to raise awareness about the issues facing teenagers in impoverished areas of Africa.

Two separate groups of seniors at CJ are working on similar Senior Capstone projects that aim to make a difference in the lives of African teenagers in Kenya and Uganda.

One group, including seniors Matt Boudinot, Matt Pyper, Adam Pendergrass, Matt Richard and Danny Wittman, has placed their focus on a small, Marianist Catholic school named Our Lady of Nazareth in Nairobi, Kenya. Their mission is to gain knowledge about the Kenyan educational system, communicate with members of the school, and send school supplies, particularly books, to the students.

The seniors first heard about Our Lady of Nazareth from Father Jeje Callistus who is currently a student at the University of Dayton. Fr. Callistus, who has served as a teacher at the Kenyan school, has been a very useful source of information for the students throughout their project.

The young men have a main goal of acquiring school supplies to send to the Our Lady of Nazareth. “The most important thing to get is books, any kind of books, they’re very hard to come by for them,” said Adam Pendergrass. “We’re also getting them Holy Angels jerseys because they really like playing football (soccer).”

“We’re partnering with Holy Angels Elementary School for this drive; they’re helping us get supplies,” added Matt Boudinot. The students are also working closely with Holy Angels and other local Marianist organizations in the Dayton community to raise awareness for Our Lady of Nazareth.

“I think it’s great that they’re raising awareness with the young students at Holy Angels,” said Molly Bardine, Capstone Coordinator. “Who knows what spark of motivation they’ll start there?”

The seniors are all very excited to be a part of a project that is action oriented. “Hearing about how hard life is for students there has motivated us to actually send supplies,” said Pendergrass. “Raising awareness is great but we really wanted to get in there and help, we really feel like we’re actually taking action to help them.”

“A lot of projects are awareness oriented,” agreed Boudinot. “I really wanted to DO something, it has helped me really immerse myself in the project, and it’s made me realize how blessed I am.”

Unified for Uganda — Awareness for the Cause

Another group of seniors, including Grace Saunders and Emily Meyer, have focused their efforts on raising awareness about poverty and education in Uganda. The seniors were inspired by their involvement in the organization Unified for Uganda, also known as U for U. 

To complete their Capstone project, they organized a Global Symposium on February 22. The symposium invited all CJ students to learn about the level of poverty in Uganda and the ways education can help improve the situation.

Grace Saunders has been a member of Unified for Uganda for two years as part of her involvement with the Key Club at CJ. “We raised $1,100 for U for U but no one at CJ really seemed to know what we were raising money for,” said Saunders. “The lack of knowledge inspired us to use our Capstone project to raise awareness for U for U.”

The Global Symposium drew a big crowd. Many students attended, including two Cincinnati high school students who traveled to Uganda last year. “We were so happy they could come to the event,” said Saunders. “They talked about being with the children there and how it changed their lives”Cincinnati students join Saunders and Meyer at the Global Symposium

The symposium began with a prayer and a video from U for U and then split up into various educational breakout sessions. “I ran a session comparing Ugandan student’s lives to US student’s lives and Emily ran a session with facts, trivia and statistics about poverty,” said Saunders.

Clare Wade, a student who attended the symposium said it was an eye opening experience. “Some of the other girls and I are thinking of taking it to the next level next year for our Senior Capstone project,” she said. “It inspired me and my parents to sponsor a Ugandan girl for Lent. We’re sending her the first letter soon.”

“The really exciting thing about their project is that it will serve as a model for future projects,” said Bardine. "Any Capstone group in the future that wants to take on a symposium project will have a great model.”

Bardine emphasized the importance of educating future generations of students. “This project embraces the idea of educating students and inspiring them to act,” she said. “It’s really the core of Marianist tradition.”

Ultimately, the symposium was a great success. “At least 10 kids came up to me and tell me that they had fun or that I educated them,” said Saunders. “Multiple people have taken application forms for a leadership summit through U for U.”

The effort both groups of CJ seniors are making to positively affect the lives of African teenagers is truly heartwarming. “In general the most rewarding thing is seeing the smile on the Ugandan kid’s faces and getting a letter back, and realizing that I’m making a difference,” said Saunders. “The world seems ten times smaller now than it did before I become involved with U for U.”