The final buzzer sounds, and the girls basketball team has done it again! The Knights are all smiles and the crowd roars their appreciation for a great team effort. This season, the Episcopal girls basketball team has earned wins against 5A schools Walker High and St. Joseph’s Academy. They’ve bested St. Michael and St. Scholastica. They have come together as a team and it’s exciting to watch.
Like most teams, this group of girls runs drills together, lifts weights together and spends hours practicing on the court. But it’s the behind the scenes focus on service that tells a bigger story. These athletes volunteered at a church youth camp and at the Shepherd’s Market Food Pantry gather the supplies they needed for their homes. For Christmas, the team wrapped gifts they donated to the Samaritan’s Purse Operation Christmas Child program. They have even attended Episcopal Lower School girls basketball games where they cheered on the mini Knights with enthusiasm and spirit. Why would a group of high school students dedicate so many hours to service?
“God gave us the talent of athleticism,” says senior forward Sydney Summerville. “God allows us to play on the court as a team. Service is our way to thank Him for that.”
This is a powerful reminder of why service is as much a part of life at Episcopal as academics, arts and athletics. Service examples can be found throughout every division. For example, a fifth grade lesson on the cultures of Africa, Asia, Europe and the Americas led to the creation of the global marketplace. Students sold handmade items to generate funds, which were donated to Heifer International to purchase livestock for residents in poverty-stricken nations. Middle School project-based lessons have benefitted Friends of the Animals, Catholic Charities and Support Our War Heroes. Ninth graders began this school year with a service learning retreat in August. Students volunteered at the Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank, Melrose Elementary, the Knock Knock Children’s Museum, Front Yard Bikes and the Louisiana School for the Visually Impaired.
While service learning is required in Upper School, many students participate in the projects simply because they want to help. Coach Taylor Mims says the girls basketball team made a commitment to service this season. “We want to think outside of us,” she says. “We are fortunate to be here and this is our norm, but we must think about what we can do for others.”
This commitment to service runs throughout Upper School. To empower students and encourage participation, there is a student service learning team. This group of students meets monthly to discuss potential projects and how to make them enjoyable for the Upper School community. “As co-president of the center for service learning, I’ve tried to advertise service as a fun activity, not as a graduation requirement,” says senior Ryan Whaley. “By pushing groups of friends to complete service together and by working with administrators to find fun new service projects, I think that our team has done a great job branding service as a ‘fun activity.’”
Collectively, the Episcopal community can do tremendous good. In November, members of the community donated more than 3,000 pounds of food to the Shepherd’s Market Food Pantry. More than 3,000 pounds! Each year, members of the Episcopal community participate in a school supply drive benefiting our partner school Melrose Elementary. When Hurricane Harvey devastated Houston and surrounding areas, members of the community donated supplies to help residents recover.
Next week, there are numerous opportunities for Episcopal students and staff to serve, including the 2020 MLK Fest presented by the Walls Project, City Year’s Day of Service and the Front Yard Bikes effort to refurbish their outdoor spaces. Beginning February 1st, Episcopal volunteers will once again work alongside a new homeowner to build a home through Habitat for Humanity. Summerville, who is great at the three point line, says the basketball team has plans to work a Habitat shift together. Episcopal students and staff have participated in the student Habitat build for nearly 20 years.
It is often said that those who serve others reap more benefits than the people they are serving. In an educational setting, service learning helps students connect what they learn in the classroom to real world issues. It helps spark innovation and imagination as they explore and work toward meaningful solutions. It also fosters empathy for others that will hopefully generate understanding, a willingness to help and a desire to make the world a better place.
Thank you to everyone who makes service a priority, especially our student volunteers.
Sometimes all you need to provide healing is a pen, a pad and an old guitar. Episcopal band director Doug Gay and his team at BR Music Studios are offering their version of healing and support to Louisiana veterans through free Veterans Songwriting Collective workshops.
Doug and his team began this journey two years ago when they were approached by the Louisiana Office of Cultural Development to create a program specifically for veterans. BR Music Studios already had programs in place for preschool musicians and individuals with adaptive needs and Doug says they were eager to work with veterans as well. “We say yes and then we figure it out,” he says. The group did figure it out by adapting an existing program to fit the needs of veterans. One need that Doug and his team identified quickly among the veterans was the need to be heard. These men and women have stories that many don’t understand and it’s comforting for them to be in a place where their story is not only heard, but also appreciated.
During the pilot programs, which were offered in Baton Rouge, Lake Charles, Alexandria and Shreveport, participants spent considerable time simply talking about what they had experienced. In fact, Doug says the sessions all ran much longer than initially planned and going forward he plans to allow more time for discussion. After participants shared their stories, the music educators helped them put their thoughts into lyrics. You might think it would be hard to narrow down so many experiences into one song, but Doug says it always comes together. “It’s magic,” he says with the excitement of someone who has dedicated his life to helping others discover their musical talents.
"I want the audience to get the same goosebumps I get."
Doug says it is powerful to hear the stories of the Veterans Songwriting Collective participants. As you speak to him about the project, the sense of awe and respect he has for the veterans involved is immediately apparent. For Doug and his team, the Veterans Songwriting Collective project is truly a way to support and recognize veterans. He is honored to share this experience with them and humbled by the part BR Music Studios is playing. “We’re just teaching how to write a song,” he says. But clearly, there is much more.
For workshop participant Army Specialist Chad Chenevert, who is married to Episcopal Director of Technology, Michelle Chenevert, the experience was particularly meaningful. At the workshop, SPC Chenevert reflected on what inspired him to serve and the importance of his grandfather’s military hat for his entire family. “My grandfather was my hero, and since the first picture I saw of him in uniform…I only hoped I could grow to be like him,” says Chenevert. “He marched me around his house in Alexandria calling out cadence while I tried to keep that big hat on my young head straight and proud.” Once SPC Chenevert became a man big enough to wear that hat, he followed in his grandfather’s footsteps and joined the Louisiana Army National Guard at only 17 years old. “I turned 18 in the gas chamber at Ft. Leonard Wood, MO and have tried to serve my country in anyway I can, even after my honorable discharge,” he says.
As stories such as SPC Chenevert’s are told during the workshops, there is a sense of understanding among the attendees. Participants can relate to one another and the challenges they have all faced. Veterans Songwriting Collective sessions are filled with laughter, tears and the comfort that comes from being with those who understand. While the goal is for veterans to come together to write a song about shared experiences, the journey and bonding that occurs are the true takeaways.
Thanks to the expertise of Doug and his team, these shared stories are transformed into meaningful songs. Doug and his workshop co-creator, Sarah Burke, have partnered with Nashville Star finalist and Army Specialist David St. Romain, to voice the songs and a team of BR Music Studios musicians supply the rhythms. There truly is a magic in the experience as men and women who once felt their story was unheard, now have the opportunity to hear their story in song.
Specialist Chenevert says the Veterans Songwriting Collective experience was incredible and he is confident it can help other veterans who are struggling with their challenges. This sentiment around music therapy is gaining traction. Music therapy has existed since the early 1800s with the first university music therapy courses introduced in the 1940s. Now, the National Endowment for the Arts is working with the Department of Defense and Veterans Affairs to help members of the military deal with issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder. According to Creative Forces, which is a National Endowment for the Arts initiative that works with military personnel, music therapy can help “optimize feelings of safety and reduce perceptions of threat during emotional risk-taking.” The organization also points out that music therapy “contributes to improvements in social integration, quality of life, and overall motivation in the recovery process.”
After seeing the value of the initial pilot sessions, the Louisiana Division of the Arts and the Lt. Governor's office have begun the process of approving two additional workshops in the spring of 2020. Doug and his team are especially interested in bringing the events to smaller, more rural areas so that more veterans can easily access them. In the meantime, songs such as those inspired by SPC Chenevert’s own experience will serve as a reminder of those who serve and the sacrifices they make. “My grandmother absolutely cherishes it, as it was her husband who wore the hat,” says Chenevert. “We are very appreciative for the talents of Doug Gay, David St. Romain, and all the others who volunteered their time to organize the event,” says Chenevert’s wife, Michelle. “Our family was moved to tears as we listened to the song created called ‘PawPaw’s Hat.’”
To SPC Chenevert, his grandfather and so many others, we say thank you for your commitment and service. Click here to listen to "Paw Paw's Hat."
Happy Veterans Day!
I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. John 13:15 NIV
As Jesus washed the feet of his disciples, He shared a message of grace that has inspired generations for centuries. “It doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from, we’re called to love and serve one another,” says Lower School religion teacher Jenny Koenig. “That help comes in many forms and can be a simple hug or sharing a homework assignment with a friend who doesn’t have it.” The message is so simple and relatable that even a child can grasp it, and that’s exactly what happened recently in Episcopal’s Lower School.
First quarter fifth grade religion students were tasked with organizing a campus service project. They studied service examples from the Bible to get inspiration for the project. As they studied stories such as the Good Samaritan, they suggested ideas ranging from a lemonade stand to blessing bags. Koenig says while these ideas were good, she wanted the students to create a project that would take place on campus and that would not require funds or resources. Her goal was for the students to do something that required their compassion or empathy, time and talent. As they delved deeper into biblical examples, Koenig showed students artistic depictions of Jesus washing the feet of His followers. There was even a video of an actor portraying Jesus as He knelt to perform this act of service. It was at this moment that a student said, “What if we help little kids learn to tie their shoes?” Koenig was blown away with the suggestion, and with the connection the student made between Jesus’ act of service and the act of service that the fifth graders could do today.
The students were enthusiastic about the project and quickly began planning. “They were 100% invested,” says Koenig. The students began the effort by deciding which age group to target. They observed their Lower School classmates and reported back that the kindergarten and first grade students seemed to be an ideal group. They had noticed the younger students dragging their shoelaces along beside them, tripping over long laces or holding up the line as they stopped to wrestle with the loops. Once the target grade was determined, the students spent the next few weeks planning. Koenig says they put their heart into helping their classmates. They role-played how to teach a younger student and they discussed the need for extra shoes to help students without laces. The project was infused with enthusiasm and joy. They named it the Happy Feet Clinic.
When the day finally arrived for the older students to teach their younger counterparts, there was much excitement among the fifth graders as they anticipated the arrival of their first grade friends. The older students were gracious hosts. “It’s lovely to meet you,” one student said after introducing herself. The students paired up and worked quietly together on the religion room rug. Fifth graders provided encouragement and patient instruction. With the shyness of a first grader, the younger students paid careful attention to the instruction and were eager to learn this important skill or even show off what they already knew about shoe tying. It was a remarkable and powerful moment.
Every first grader attending the Happy Feet Clinic received a handmade participation certificate. The fifth graders created more than 40 of these souvenirs, drawing and writing every detail. Koenig says they hoped the younger students would keep them to remember the experience. Several of the first graders also left with a new skill – the ability to tie their own shoe. There was shocked pride on their faces as they made the first loop and mastered this new skill. While not all of the students learned to tie their shoe, they all certainly gave it their best effort. Regardless, the fifth grade students were compassionate and kind.
Problem solving. The opportunity to teach another. Empowerment. Koenig says there was a lot more taking place at the Happy Feet Clinic than simply learning to tie a knot or make a bow. She says the students have bonded and they now speak to each other on campus. “Their perspective changed,” Koenig says. “They’ve seen that it can be that simple to help another.”
“It felt good knowing that we taught someone how to tie their shoe.”
“I never knew how fun tying shoes could be.”
“One of my buddies didn’t learn but it’s okay because he still tried very hard.”
“One thing I have learned is that tying shoes can be a big accomplishment.”
The Happy Feet Clinic was a simple gesture with a big impact. It’s a meaningful example of the Episcopal experience as an unexpected lesson makes a lasting impression. It’s also a great reminder of that ageless lesson taught so long ago. Like the fifth graders, we hope you’ll be inspired by the message. How will you serve today?
Service Learning in Ninth Grade
Episcopal’s mission is to prepare graduates for college and for purposeful lives. The recent ninth grade retreat highlights the commitment to making this mission a reality. Each August members of the freshman class spend a Friday volunteering with local organizations. “It’s important for us to have students realize that service to others is one of the things that we view as important,” says Father Skully.
Students begin retreat day at one of five locations throughout Baton Rouge. This year students volunteered at the Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank, Melrose Elementary School, the Knock Knock Children’s Museum, Front Yard Bikes and the Louisiana School for the Visually Impaired. Students assisted with everything from sorting food and cleaning up, to setting up for an event and painting.
“I want our students to be exposed to people who saw opportunities and made things happen,” says Father Skully. At each volunteer site, Father Skully ensures that an organization representative speaks with students about the organization’s mission and purpose. At the food bank students learned about the reality of Baton Rouge food shortages, the need for volunteers and the importance of food donations. At Front Yard Bikes students learned how the organization began because the founder saw a need and addressed it. Interaction with the representatives helps make the volunteer experience much more meaningful for students. The hope is that students feel empowered to serve others and to address the needs of their community.
The need to act and make a difference is a key component of the Episcopal experience. The National Association of Episcopal Schools (NAES) believes that one of the principal qualities of an Episcopal school, is that the institutions work for social justice through community service and service learning. Through service learning, students connect what they learn in class to real world issues, then explore and work toward solutions, all while reflecting meaningfully on their experiences and efforts.
Focus on Friendship in Sixth Grade
Problem solving and building new friendships outside of the classroom are hallmarks of the annual sixth grade retreat. “Friendship Retreat gives 6th graders an opportunity to begin forging an identity as a group,” says English teacher Martha Guarisco. Guarisco and her fellow teachers will make the day even more exciting this year by setting everything to a Harry Potter theme. (It’s hard to say who loves the book series more, the students or the teachers.) The excitement of the day helps students make friendships and develop the peer support system that will be there for them during the Middle School transition years. “Sixth grade retreat is a chance for students to get to know each other,” says math teacher Nancy Callaway. “They get to enjoy each other’s company in a very relaxed atmosphere.” Such an experience is also good for the teachers. “I think the retreat gives teachers a chance early in the year to see the students in a relaxed, non-academic setting, which is usually fun and enlightening,” says science teacher Stacy Hill. “This is a fun day away from campus that allows us to come together as a sixth grade community,” says social studies teacher Virginia Day.
This year’s sixth grade retreat is slated for Friday, September 13th.
Learning about Leadership in Fifth Grade
“I call on you to imagine what it looks like to be a leader of Lower School.” Bridget Henderson
Episcopal fifth graders recently participated in a retreat day of their own. Lower School Division Head Bridget Henderson advised students that the day would focus on their new role as Lower School leaders. Students self-organized and led group activities. The ten year olds also discussed meaningful topics such as altruism, supporting each other and serving as a role model for their younger Lower School counterparts. “The fifth grade year at Episcopal is special because fifth graders are the leaders of the Lower School,” says Henderson. “We wanted to provide a chance for the students to bond as a class and to prepare themselves for the leadership opportunities ahead.”
The retreat culminated with the traditional fifth grade sweatshirt ceremony in the Chapel. Together, students sang songs reflecting a commitment to servant leadership and gratitude. Amid the Louisiana heat and humidity, students then donned Class of 2027 sweatshirts. By design, the sleeves were too long and the hems fell well below the waist so that they can be worn for multiple years. Father Skully advised the students that the sweatshirts represent their unity as one class working together toward the common goal of completing their education. While the shirts appear large now, the students will quickly grow and one day those sleeves that fell below the hand will barely reach the wrist. As this transformation accelerates, hopefully the students will remember the lessons on leadership and compassion that were imparted to them on fifth grade retreat day.
Episcopal offers numerous retreat opportunities to help students develop a sense of community. The bonds created as a result of these experiences can last a lifetime and will be remembered long after they leave Woodland Ridge Boulevard.
Do you have a favorite retreat memory? Share it in the comments below.
“God lives at Camp Hardtner.”
Episcopal Chaplain Father Kirkland “Skully” Knight spent his first summer at Camp Hardtner in 1985. Father Skully arrived as an unsuspecting teen who was simply tagging along with friends for summer fun. Over the next few years, what he found there totally changed him. In the end he had a new name, the love of his life and an inspiration to serve the Lord as an Episcopal priest.
Camp Hardtner is a 160-acre campground outside of Pollock, Louisiana. It is the only Episcopal summer camp in Louisiana and serves students from all across the state. Campers participate in traditional activities such as swimming, campfires, songs and summer games and they also become part of a close-knit community. “It’s a place where you get to go and just be yourself,” says Father Skully. “It’s just this sort of community and tradition and sense of God’s presence. It’s hard to put your finger on it.”
Father Skully remembers arriving at Camp Hardtner for the first time with limited expectations for what was ahead. He participated in the activities and took part in the daily worship services. At Camp Hardtner, services may take place in the Chapel of the Holy Family or they may take place in more unusual settings, such as the arts and crafts shack with string lights and bright colored drawings all around. Father Skully also became quite familiar with the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer as campers said morning, meal and evening prayers. He interacted with a Church in ways he had not experienced before and truly felt like a valued participant. Just as he was falling in love with Camp Hardtner, he was falling in love with the Episcopal Church.
That first summer at Camp, Kirkland Knight also became Skully Knight. Not long after arriving, a counselor said Kirkland reminded him of a movie character named Skully. The nickname stuck and Father Skully is still known by that name today even though it turned out that the movie character was not named Skully. As much as he had already gained from his Camp Hardtner experience in just one summer, there was still more in store for him at this isolated place in the piney woods.
The second summer, Father Skully again became immersed in the Camp Hardtner experience. His enthusiasm for the Camp atmosphere and the community he encountered had not diminished. He also met a young woman from north Louisiana named Mary Sue and the two quickly became good friends. They would remain friends for years before they finally realized that there was more between them. Now, many summers later the Knights will celebrate 25 years of marriage and two daughters (Emily ’18 and Katie ’21) this year.
Those closely involved with Camp Hardtner say that you either get the Camp spark or you don’t. There is no question that Father Skully certainly has the Camp spark. After attending Camp as a participant, he became a counselor-in-training, a counselor and then a head counselor in subsequent years. Even though he worked as a teacher and a coach for ten years before becoming a priest, he says it was his Camp experience and that spark that allowed him to listen to the voice that was calling him to the priesthood. “I would have never become a priest without meeting priests at Camp Hardtner,” he says. He says seeing the priests as regular people in shorts and t-shirts and playing games with the campers allowed him to imagine himself in that role. Father Skully took on the role of priest when he graduated from The School of Theology at the University of the South - Sewanee in May of 2004. After his ordination to the priesthood a year later at St. Mark’s in Shreveport, Father Skully and Mary Sue left for Camp Hardtner. Fittingly, he celebrated his first Eucharist as an Episcopal priest in Camp Hardtner’s Chapel of the Holy Family.
counselors will have a Camp experience as profound as his own. “It’s an incredible place and it’s changed a lot of people’s lives,” he says. As he reflects on the friends he’s made through his connection to Camp he realizes that many of them have gone on to lead lives in service to others. “Our lives do impact other people’s lives,” he says. “Camp Hardtner helps us become purposeful about that and it’s hard to think of only yourself.”
According to the Camp website, “Camp Hardtner has been the launch pad for a multitude of future priests and active laypersons.” As Father Skully says it can be hard to put your finger on what makes the place so special. He says the facilities are simple and basic. However, the feeling of acceptance and love shared by the counselors and campers is anything but average. Online Camp testimonials describe the experience as “life-transforming” and “some of the happiest moments of my life.” Others call Camp Hardtner their “second home” and their “second family.” Similar to the way a family provides love and support to each other, it seems that the Camp Hardtner community cares for and celebrates each other and their shared connection. These feelings are expressed in daily worship and discussions. They are felt in the campfire songs and the quiet prayers next to a lake.
Camp Hardtner offers a variety of options for campers to experience the joy and connection of unplugging and unwinding as they connect with a supportive community and celebrate the love of God, surrounded by the peace and calm of nature. To learn more about Camp Hardtner, click here.
The summer camp experience can be a meaningful and beneficial experience for campers for numerous reasons. You never know the impact or inspiration your child may discover and how that will transform their entire life.
Happy summer 2019!
The barbershop is where the magic happens. Boys go in as lumps of clay and, with princely robes draped around their shoulders, a dab of cool shaving cream on their foreheads, and a slow, steady cut, they become royalty. That crisp yet subtle line makes boys sharper, more visible, more aware of every great thing that could happen to them when they look good: lesser grades turn into As; girls take notice; even a mother’s hug gets a little tighter. Everyone notices. A fresh cut makes boys fly. Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut by Derrick Barnes, illustrated by Gordon C. James
Baton Rouge’s LINE4LINE program is helping local boys experience this feeling of a fresh cut and so much more. LINE4LINE is a non-profit organization that seeks to provide boys access to books, reading and relatable mentors by offering them free haircuts at the local barbershop. The program began four years ago at O’Neil’s Barber & Beauty Salon at 449 North Acadian Thruway when current Episcopal parent Lucy Perera met O’Neil Curtis, owner of the barbershop. Lucy had heard about barbers across the country offering free haircuts in exchange for reading books and she wanted to replicate the program here. Over the past four years, the idea has grown to include a year-round reading program, a free library, a book club and weekend activities supported by a variety of volunteers.
Every first Monday of the month, the barbershop is open from 4 pm to 7 pm and students receive free haircuts from professional barbers. As the scissors snip, the boys read aloud to the barbers, who are volunteering their time and talent on their day off. “Sometimes the books are so fascinating that the haircut is done and they continue reading to the barber,” says Perera. Perera has also partnered with the organization, Conscious Kid, to develop meaningful book lists and recommendations. Each month there is a theme in the barbershop, ranging from African American music and women’s history to bullying and graphic novels. In addition to the cuts and the stories, a longtime LINE4LINE volunteer supplies healthy food and snacks. LINE4LINE barbers and volunteers have even taken the program into several local public schools.
This school year, Episcopal students have been involved with LINE4LINE in numerous ways. Students spent a Saturday at the shop, painting and preparing the activity rooms where children now read books and participate in projects together. Episcopal students have also served as reading mentors for the children on first Mondays. In a big show of support during Louisiana Literacy Week, the entire Episcopal community donated books for the LINE4LINE library and book exchange. “Our involvement with LINE4LINE this year has been rewarding for both students and faculty,” says Episcopal Chaplain Father Skully Knight. “We are pleased to have been involved with such a meaningful project.”
Lucy and her children, junior Maia and freshman Skyler, moved to Baton Rouge from New Mexico. While in New Mexico, Lucy organized a neighborhood arts program for young people. She brought that same enthusiasm for sharing the arts with her when she relocated to Baton Rouge to work for the LSU Museum of Art, which had a similar program. In addition to art projects, museum volunteers also set up a cozy place for participating children to read. Lucy says the children thoroughly enjoyed the art projects, but the excitement about the opportunity to read a book was simply amazing. After a sizable donation of books was given to support the program, Lucy began to pursue the idea of providing free haircuts to children in exchange for reading a story. Once Lucy met O’Neil Curtis, the LINE4LINE dream became a reality.
“Thank you for letting us look at these books.”
In the few years since the effort began, Lucy says the impact has been tremendous. To check out a book from the shop’s library, children are asked to stamp a check-out card and write a note. Notes such as the one above are frequent as the children are thrilled to have a book. Lucy says having a relatable, male role model also makes reading “cool.” In the barbershop, the boys are confident and supported, which allows them to read aloud without fear of making a mistake. Lucy says because of their time at O’Neil’s some of the boys are no longer struggling in school. For those students who are struggling, LINE4LINE also has volunteer teachers available to help or to even assist parents with ways to help their child develop their reading skills.
The simplicity of the LINE4LINE program is a major strength. The program provides haircuts, mentorship, reading, support and a sense of community. Lucy’s own children even volunteer at the shop and she hopes the experience teaches them the power of taking action. “It doesn’t take much for an individual to do something that can impact others. If you have an idea there are ways to make things happen,” she says. This message is clearly something Maia took to heart as she recently partnered with her fellow students to raise awareness and support for Central American artists. You can read more from Maia here.
By making the LINE4LINE program a reality, Perera and Curtis are making Baton Rouge a better place. “I feel really lucky to be involved with this,” says Lucy, who remembers teachers and people who had a positive impact on her own life. She hopes that when the boys from LINE4LINE grow up they remember going to the barbershop, reading a book and being a part of a community that cares.
Want to get involved with LINE4LINE?
Here are few ways to be a part of the program.
After a long day on the job, running errands or even just fighting Baton Rouge traffic, many of us can’t wait to return to our home to relax and unwind. Home. It is the place where children take their first steps, where teens pin a corsage on their first date and where families simply enjoy time together. Home represents a larger sense of community. Home is hope. Home can provide strength, stability and self-reliance. But what if owning a home is out of reach?
According to the US Census Bureau, 58.8% of homes in Baton Rouge are owner-occupied. Nationally, that number is 64.4%. This means many local residents don’t have that oasis to call their own. For the past 17 years, Episcopal students and faculty have been working with Habitat for Humanity of Baton Rouge to boost homeownership in the local community and help more families realize the dream of having a place to call their own.
The annual Habitat Youth Build is supported by Episcopal, Catholic High School and St. Joseph’s Academy and sponsored by the Albemarle Foundation. Lynn Clark, Habitat Executive Director, says since 2001 students and faculty have built 19 homes for area residents. “It’s amazing to witness the generosity and hard work of the students, teachers and faculty as they come together to make a difference in the life of a deserving local family,” says Clark.
The annual Habitat build is Episcopal’s largest service learning project every year. Service Learning Center Director Matt Holt says annually more than 100 students contribute hundreds of hours of service to the effort. In addition, numerous faculty and staff members help organize the shifts in advance of the build days and spend time on site chaperoning student activities. Holt says students are not there to observe. Students are donating sweat equity as they install siding, framing and plywood. They also put in windows, cabinetry and landscaping. While the thought of such physical work may intimidate some, Holt says everyone who participates walks away with a sense of accomplishment and pride. “There’s nothing more meaningful than helping someone achieve the dream of homeownership,” says Holt. “It is a pleasure to share this experience with our students.” The significance of building these homes is not lost on the student builders.
“The act of building a house is both physical and metaphorical - we are not only literally raising the walls on a structure that will eventually be a house, but we are also metaphorically creating a new life, a new beginning, for someone,” says senior Alyssa Macaluso, who appreciated the opportunity to be stretched beyond her comfort zone. “I smashed more than my fair share of fingers, bent more than a few nails, but it’s an experience that I hope I have the ability to repeat again. Habitat’s an amazing opportunity, at any point - from raising the walls to putting up siding and painting. In addition, the experience of having a future homeowner work alongside you as the house comes together is both beautiful and precious.”
Aside from lessons on the proper way to frame up a window or how to cut in with a paint brush, Youth Build students are also learning what it means to help their neighbor. “These students learn firsthand about poverty, its effects, and the need for affordable housing,” says Clark. “They are uplifting our community one family at a time.”
“Working for habitat is probably one of the most demanding service projects that the Center for Service Learning sponsors,” says senior Douglas Robins. “To me, however, it is the most rewarding.” Robins recognizes the importance of creating a home for families, where they can come together, relax and escape the stresses of the day. “When we think about what a home is in this way, the work that we are doing with habitat is more than just building a place for people to sleep. We are building a set for a family to live out their lives. Like I said, Habitat is hard work. But what brought me back and what will continue to bring me back is that through building a home, I am not just building a structure, but I am building a future. A future for all the people who will lay their heads on the pillows for this family and for the families who inhabit it for years to come.”
Habitat of Baton Rouge has built or rehabbed 353 homes in the local community. At each build site, current and future homeowners work side-by-side with volunteers, with each homeowner completing 255 hours of their own sweat equity. These homeowners purchase their homes with an affordable, no-interest mortgage. In addition, Habitat provides the homeowners financial literacy classes to help them budget and manage their finances so that they can sustain their home for years to come. Clark says all of this is critical for providing more families a safe and stable home. She says families who own their own home flourish, build wealth and break the cycle of poverty. High homeownership rates have also been shown to boost a community’s overall home values, lower crime rates and improve school systems.
Episcopal senior Emily White recognized the impact to the community as she arrived at the build site. “I learned that the row of houses leading up to the one we were working on were all Habitat Houses! That’s awesome,” she says. “I hope the owner of the house enjoys her home and I really want to see the finished product of this project.”
Students and faculty are able to make such an impact in just four weekends. Senior Pierson Luscy says the time spent was well worth it. “Before doing this service, I was looking for a job to attend on my weekends or as much as I could, but after going through the experiences, I dealt with, being great people and enthusiastic attitudes, I am planning on shortly to make Habitat for Humanity apart of my weekly routine” he says. “For the first time in a very long time, I felt like I did something productive.”
Seeing the students’ passion and excitement for helping a neighbor is rewarding for the Episcopal faculty and staff who volunteer their time. “In working with Habitat, I see Episcopal students at their best – compassionate, cooperative, flexible, funny,” says Writing Center Director Dr. Alan Newton. “They’re also handy with a paintbrush or a hammer.” Longtime Habitat supporter Sarah Pulliam agrees. “This is one of the most worthwhile things we do with the kids,” she says reflecting on the sense of accomplishment students and faculty feel after working a shift on site.
After the hammering and painting has stopped later this month, a Baton Rouge mom and her two daughters will have their own home. They will cook in their own kitchen. They will take pride in making the space their own. We are proud of the all of the students and volunteers who supported this effort to make their dream a reality.
Award-winning singer/songwriter Mary McBride will return to Episcopal on March 17th for the Quest for Peace Program’s Quest Fest after having served as the program’s first keynote speaker earlier this year. She will return with bandmates John Kengla, Jon Spurney, Greg Beshers and Mark Stepro for a live performance in the Lewis Memorial Chapel of the Good Shepherd. All members of the Episcopal community, including students, families, faculty and staff are invited to attend the event. Quest Fest will celebrate newcomers, country and cultures. Chaplain Charlie has worked with the Louisiana Organization of Refugees and Immigrants (LORI) and Catholic Charities to expand the scope of the event beyond the school. Special guests will include local musicians, dancers and performers.
In January, McBride spent time with Episcopal students and faculty discussing the Quest for Peace theme of finding a place in a displaced world. She shared stories with students of her travels to places like Baton Rouge’s O’Brien House and Detroit’s housing developments. Her travels have even taken her to Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Russia. Everywhere she goes McBride finds that people connect and relate through a shared love of music. This connection and joy is something McBride and her band celebrate and spread to international displaced populations through their Home Tour Program.
McBride began her professional music career at the age of five and went on her first tour at nine. Since then she has cut records, written lyrics and performed the rock and roll music she loves. She has toured the country performing in traditional settings - clubs, music venues and festivals. However, after realizing that there are audiences of people with no access to live music, she found her purpose and established the Home Tour Program to bring music to those populations.
McBride’s time on Episcopal’s campus was powerful and meaningful. She shared stories of the unexpected sense of optimism and belonging felt among children in an orphanage in Pakistan. She told students about the expressions on the faces of people who were never allowed to sing at home when they heard her band’s melodies and were free to express themselves for the first time. McBride spoke with Episcopal ethics students about how music helps people of different cultures and abilities connect and relate. She even led a songwriting workshop to help inspire students to create their own music. There was hope and responsibility in her message. Now she returns to share that with not only Episcopal, but also the greater south Louisiana community.
This first year of the Quest for Peace Program has been a tremendous success. Student lessons have been enhanced with resources, guest speakers and thought-provoking discussions. Join us as we celebrate this success and look forward to many more years to come.
Close your eyes and imagine the way the sunlight streams through the stained glass windows of the Lewis Memorial Chapel of the Good Shepherd. Imagine the rich wood tones of the interior and the hush of expectation that fills the space as your footsteps echo across the floor. Now imagine you are 40 inches tall and five years old.
“There is no greater joy than seeing the younger students in chapel,” says Lower School Religion Teacher Laura Portwood. Recently, Portwood and Episcopal Chaplain Father Skully Knight have implemented a new way for little Knights to become more familiar with the chapel and what occurs inside. The two have been hosting Fridays with Father throughout the month of February for kindergarten students.
Portwood says as the students approach the empty chapel she reminds them that visiting chapel is like visiting a friend’s house. Once the heavy doors part and the small students enter the space, there is a powerful sense of awe and wonder among them. “Even kids get a sense that this place is special,” says Father Skully. He says they may not quite understand why, but they realize immediately that the chapel is different from any other building on campus. Portwood says even the most common experiences, like sitting in a pew are exciting for these students who experience every day as a new adventure. Such enthusiasm and zest for exploration is truly inspiring for the adults. “I love their sense of awe because I still get it myself,” says Father Skully smiling, as he reflects on the sights and sounds of some of his favorite churches, including All Saints Chapel at Sewanee.
On a recent Friday, Mrs. Henderson’s kindergarten class had the opportunity to learn more about the chapel and the objects within. Students listened attentively as Father Skully described the vestments he was wearing, what takes place in the sacristy and even how and why the candles are lit. Students were inquisitive, as only five year olds can be. While the tour was directed at the kindergartners, even the adults in the room learned new terms and traditions. “I really appreciate it when people have questions about church,” says Father Skully.
The goal of Fridays with Father is to help students become more comfortable with the chapel and the chaplain. Portwood says they want students to know from a young age that everyone is welcome and the chapel is their space. Such openness is a hallmark of an Episcopal school and the Episcopal Church. Episcopal schools are intentionally diverse communities. At Episcopal, students and faculty join together at different times, in various locations, and in many ways to encourage all students to dig deep into their individual faith and develop a sense of their own spirituality, all while helping them to develop a love for both God and their neighbor. Lower School students explore faith in daily Morning Meetings and attend chapel every Friday. Middle and Upper School students attend chapel twice a week. In addition, the older students have the opportunity to lead many of the chapel services as members of the Student Vestry. This commitment to spiritual growth can also be seen as students participate in service learning projects throughout the year or as they simply learn to love their neighbor in Frazer Hall.
The Fridays with Father experience has already created a noticeable change among kindergartners. Now as they see Father Skully on campus they enthusiastically wave to him. They are familiar with him and happy to see him. “I want everyone to feel that the chapel is theirs, a place where they belong,” says Father Skully.
Hopefully the students will also retain that sense of awe as they see a sun ray shimmer through a rose window or as they share the space with their classmates, family and friends for years to come.
There is a sense of pride and respect felt when saying the Pledge of Allegiance surrounded by military veterans. Lower School students experienced this on Monday as they participated in a special program honoring those who served. The tone of the program was set when members of the Upper School Select Choir sang the Star Spangled banner. After saying the pledge and the Episcopal Honor Code, Head of School Hugh McIntosh spoke to students about what a veteran looks like. For many of the students, a veteran looks like their grandfather, father or family member. In Episcopal’s case, a veteran also looks like McIntosh, who was an officer in the United States Navy and served in Vietnam.
Middle and Upper School students were also reminded of what it means to be a veteran. Students in Clara Howell’s European History: Europe at War class have spent a semester learning about World War I. After studying the Great War and its impact on the world, the students felt compelled to observe the 100th anniversary of the conflict’s end. Students banded together to handcraft 500 poppy pins to distribute to their fellow classmates and Episcopal faculty and staff as a reminder of the lives lost. “Learning about the poppies and the affect they have around the world is something that truly humbled me, it made me realize how deadly this war was, and the ultimate sacrifice that many people gave to better our world,” says Thomas Besselman. Fellow classmate Mary Francis Sadler agrees. “Making these poppies with my classmates has taught me that a small, simple flower can mean so much to so many people.”
The students presented information on World War I and read the poem “In Flanders Field” by John McCrae during Upper School Chapel. “Sharing the remembrance of World War One with multiple levels of school brings us together to appreciate not only American veterans but veterans from all over the world,” says Anna Scot Hixon. After sharing the message, students distributed the poppies as a visual reminder for their classmates.
Episcopal alumni also marked Veterans Day. Alumnus Daniel Rieger, ’15 attended a truly historic Armistice Day ceremony in Paris. Rieger is a West Point cadet who is currently attending L’École Spéciale Militaire de Saint-Cyr, the French national military academy, as part of his training. Episcopal French teacher Julien Prevost says Rieger became passionate about the French language and culture when he participated in the Episcopal French exchange program his sophomore year. Now as a cadet, Rieger has the opportunity to continue exploring French culture. During the Armistice Day ceremony, he was even featured on French television discussing the experience. Click here to watch Rieger.
Members of the military dedicate themselves to a life of service to country and to others. We are proud of the Episcopal families, alumni and staff who have taken up that oath. We thank you for your service.
Happy Veterans Day.
Thank you for your service.