The impact of service work for Catholic High School students is profound

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WOONSOCKET — Service is no longer a “checkbox” for students at Mount Saint Charles Academy says Principal Edwin Burke. This year, students and faculty will be participating in days of planned service, in which they will take a break from classes and meet the needs of those around them.

“The goal is to help students see the opportunity for service as a part of our greater mission,” Burke says. “It’s the right thing to do.”

In previous years, MSC students have been required to complete at least six hours of quarterly service, and while Burke says it has all been good, he feels it hasn’t been quite enough.

“Service is about learning,” he says. “It’s about faith in action.”

And for rising junior Tanvi Bhatia, service has been just that — a learning experience.

For the past four years, Bhatia has taken full advantage of the service opportunities at MSC, from soup kitchen trips to nursing home visits to afternoon programs at local schools. And while service began as a grade requirement, she believes it now to be a part of her life.

“Service has given me life experience,” she said. “It has pushed me out of my comfort zone.”

Bhatia notes that, in the past, she remembers often times feeling “uncomfortable” at different service spots. But older now, the Bellingham, Massachusetts, resident feels that she can truly appreciate what she is doing, and the good that comes from it.

“And whenever I feel that way,” Bhatia says, “I remind myself that I am here to help.”

Throughout her time at MSC, Bhatia says that she has felt the switch from an “I have to” to an “I want to” when it comes to giving her time. And for her, this has made all the difference.

Yet, she explains, finding the time is hard. And for many high school students with schoolwork, extracurricular activities and part time jobs, there is often little time left for things like service.

“But there’s nothing like it,” Bhatia says. “Giving someone your time, with no reward, is something that makes you feel good.”

And Burke agrees.

“This year will be more than simply bringing in a box of stuffing around Thanksgiving or buying some cans for the food drive,” the principal says. “Service means involvement and it requires both a choice and an action.”

Burke reflected that it was in college that he first truly experienced this choice and action.

As a student at Saint Anselm College, Burke had the opportunity to plan and host a Christmas party for the children of a downtown Manchester, New Hampshire, parish.

“For me, it was a realization,” he says. “I saw the impact of service firsthand.”

And now, he wants the same thing for his students in Woonsocket.

By “providing students with a diversity of experiences,” Burke feels that there will be something for all, whether that be in a school or at a nursing home.

“We live in a community and there are people in need,” he said. “It is our duty to respond.”

And so, once in the fall and once in spring, the whole school — including teachers — will be responding.

“If it’s good,” Burke says, “we should all be doing it.”

And for soon-to-be senior Martin Piette, this is nothing new.

Piette,17, shared that he has found his niche of service. And to him, it’s changed his life.

For the past four years, Piette has coached youth soccer in his hometown of Blackstone, Massachusetts. He coaches his younger brother’s team alongside his father, who, at one time, did the same for him.

“My father was a role model for me and now I can be a role model for these kids.”

Piette believes his favorite part of coaching to be teaching his young players the importance of hard work and responsibility.

“I tell them that, with effort, they can do whatever they want. They just have to learn to work with themselves.”

And while Piette hopes to make a difference in these players’ lives, they have already made a difference in his.

“I have found that I love working with kids,” he says, as he notes his plans to volunteer at a school on these planned days of service.

“Finding what you are best at makes you feel good and makes you feel unique.”

Piette is excited for these new days of service at school, he still believes in the importance of personal service, and the idea of it being a “choice.”

“Faith and service is individualized,” he says.

And by reflecting on and recognizing his own talents and passions, he has found where he excels.

“Service helps my faith grow.”