Holy Cross senior Elise Mitchell participates in a sing-along with residents at Kensington Park Senior Living during an April 23 Day of Service. (CS photos by Jaclyn Lippelmann)
Holy Cross senior Elise Mitchell participates in a sing-along with residents at Kensington Park Senior Living during an April 23 Day of Service. (CS photos by Jaclyn Lippelmann)

As a part of the school’s 150th anniversary celebration, the entire school community of the Academy of the Holy Cross in Kensington traveled to different places in Maryland and Washington to give back to their community through a Day of Service on April 23.

“Part of our mission as a school is that of compassion,” said Emily Teter, the director of the Holy Cross social justice program, who noted that the school strives to develop women of courage, compassion and scholarship. “It was really important to me that we can go ahead and live that compassion in the world.”

According to the mission statement of the all-girls’ Catholic high school, Holy Cross is “dedicated to educating young women in a Christ-centered community,” helping them to “embrace the social, spiritual and intellectual challenges of the world.”

Teter, who planned the day, noted that the founder of the Congregation of the Holy Cross, Blessed Basil Moreau, was very dedicated to serving the poor and those in need.

“That charism has gone from him to the sisters (of the Holy Cross), and because we are their school, that is something we really try to embody,” said Teter.

Teter said in addition to serving the community, the Day of Service was designed to give the students the opportunity to “learn in a different way beyond just in a classroom – to see the needs around us and help meet those needs.”

The group of girls who visited Kensington Park Senior Living did learn from interacting with the residents there, and Julia Muzzatti, a senior at Holy Cross said, “listening to what advice they have to give us brightens our day.”

The girls helped clean up outside the senior living facility and then sang, painted nails, and did exercises with the elderly residents there. One resident, Lois Marley, was decked out with Holy Cross gear, as some of her daughters and granddaughters had attended the school.

Going into the community gave them an opportunity to demonstrate the values of the school firsthand, and to practice their communication skills while interacting with new people, said Muzzatti and her classmate, Sydney Bruno.

“It is one thing to learn about service and hear people talk about it, it is another thing when you have your hands in the mess of things,” said Bruno.

This day was a part of a yearlong celebration of the school’s anniversary, which has included other events such as welcoming alumnae back to the school’s old building on Upton Street in Washington and attending a Mass celebrated by Cardinal Donald Wuerl at St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Washington, where the school first began in 1868.

“Our school was founded on giving back to the community,” said Bruno. “So there is no better way to celebrate.”

The Day of Service also served as a way to bring the students closer together as a school community.

“In working together to give back, we bond together individually and make an impact together,” said Sharvari Puri, another Holy Cross senior.

Another group of students went to Red Wiggler Farm in Germantown, which is a sustainable community farm where people with and without developmental disabilities work and grow healthy food. Thirty-five percent of that food goes to low-income families.

Holy Cross junior Marin Larkin was among the students there who were outside helping to prepare the fields for the growing season.

“I think it is really important to explore all aspects of serving the community,” she said. “This really makes you broaden your horizons and look beyond what is around you.”

Steve Lashmit, one of the growers who is employed by Red Wiggler, said he enjoys teaching someone else the skills that he has learned there, and having the Holy Cross students there “has made my work a lot easier,” by speeding up a process that usually takes hours to do.

Holy Cross junior London Hall was in the group of girls at Red Wiggler who were helping to make bags of rocks to hold down plant covers. She said she thought doing this work was important because “it is bringing us outside our comfort zone,” and she also got to learn more about where her food comes from.

Some of the other 18 service sites for the day included So Others May Eat (SOME), where students helped prepare food for the homeless; Honor Flight Greeting, where students greeted veterans who were visiting the World War II or Vietnam War memorials; and DC General Family Shelter.

Haley Krause, a junior at Holy Cross, said she thought this variety demonstrated that “it is not just one type of people we like to help – it’s everyone.”