BY KELLY SWAN | October 24, 2016
In late September, sophomore students at Cristo Rey San Jose Jesuit High School gathered at Great Oaks Park, where they were met by a crew from the San Jose Parks and Recreation Volunteer unit, with gloves, shovels, and wheelbarrows. A mound of treated woodchips awaited the crew of 24 students in the driveway of the park. For two solid hours, students shoveled chips into wheelbarrows, transporting them to the adjoining playground, paying particular attention to areas eroded by play–where children land coming down slides, or jumping off swings, or running around the merry go round.
“Doing such difficult and tiring work to help the community caused me to forget almost everything else that was in my life aside from completing the tasks set before me,” shared Gabriel Benavides, a student at Cristo Rey San Jose. “I was focused only on doing what work had to be done, and the thought of trivial things such as social media never came to mind.”
The tenth grade Christian service program offers environmental volunteer opportunities to students, aiming to provide formation in the duty of stewardship of the planet. Upon completion of the work at Great Oaks Park, students reflected on their contribution to the care of a shared community outdoor space in light of Laudato Si’.
Students were asked to reflect upon a series of questions, leaping from an initial reflection on their own personal experience of the natural world. They weighed in on the risks and pitfalls of excessive social media use, and how time in the natural world can provide perspective and space for reflection upon using social media for good. They went on to consider the role of service in the Christian life, and the role of environmental stewardship in the broad context of social justice.
“I was very proud of the sophomores who participated in this event,” shared Richard Piland, science faculty member and coordinator tenth grade Christian service at Cristo Rey San Jose. “They worked hard and I know that many had never done this type of work. Most all of them told me that they enjoyed the work and felt pride in themselves for giving back to the community.”
The Ignatian Carbon Challenge invites high schools–both on an individual and institutional level–to address climate change and environmental justice through a series of monthly challenges. To draw attention to specific efforts of participating schools and individuals, ISN will post periodic stories highlighting ways in which challenges are being completed throughout the Ignatian network.
Kelly Swan has served as communications director for the Ignatian Solidarity Network since 2016. She grew up in West Virginia and is a graduate of Wheeling Jesuit University. Kelly has worked in parish social ministry, child and family advocacy, community education and organizing, and publishing. She lives in the Cleveland, Ohio area with her children.