When high school senior Jasmeen Santos was a little girl, she enjoyed memorable times at a Catholic summer camp, relishing in the company of fellow classmates and sharing inspiring moments with camp leaders who always made her smile.
“I couldn’t wait to return every year because they gave me the best summers of my life, throughout my entire childhood, [and] the counselors I had made me very, very happy,” Santos recalled recently. “I knew that someday I wanted to be one of those people [helping] small children … to see the smiles on their faces.”
And she has — and so much more. Santos, a student at St. Pius X-St. Matthias Academy in Downey, has volunteered at Camp Savio for several consecutive summers, and regularly volunteers year round at her school — experiences that have cemented her desire to make volunteerism a lifelong priority.
“I definitely always want to give back,” said Santos, who has accumulated more than 1,200 volunteer hours from her freshman year to the present.
Santos was among 78 seniors representing 51 Catholic high schools across the three-county Archdiocese of Los Angeles who were honored during the 2016 Christian Service Awards Mass on March 16 at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels for their steadfast dedication to community service over the past four years.
Archbishop JoseÃÅ H. Gomez began his homily during the annual Mass by congratulating the winning students — and sharing a story about Pope Francis. During the pope’s February trip to Mexico, he spoke with some young people about the essential convergence of love and Christianity, reminding them “to keep the commandment that Jesus gave us: to love God above all things and our neighbors as ourselves — or, even more, as Jesus loved them, as he loved us.”
“Love — that’s what it means to be a ‘real Christian,’” said Archbishop Gomez. “And love is an ‘action’ word; it’s not just a feeling. Love means we have to ‘do’ something. Love means service — serving others.
“So these Christian Service Awards are really awards for love, because love is expressed in service and service is the ‘proof’ of our love,” he continued.
The archbishop presented Christian Service Award medals to all 78 students immediately following the Mass. The seniors have completed a combined total of more than 50,000 service hours over the course of their four years in high school.
The students volunteered in a variety of areas, including academic tutoring, summer camp counseling, altar service, retreat leadership, hospital interpretation, assisting special needs children, and many more. Among the diverse organizations they supported were Habitat for Humanity, Sylmar Homeless Shelter, the Braille Institute and numerous others, in addition to several local Catholic churches.
“We affirm them, we acknowledge them, for their selfless ways … and generous hearts; [they have] yielded a harvest of loving service to those less fortunate in their neighborhoods,” said Holy Faith Sister Angela Hallahan, archdiocesan coordinator for the yearly Christian Service Awards, at the event.
For Corbin Williams, who attends St. Bernard High School in Playa del Rey, it was a “joyful” experience being at the cathedral with both fellow student volunteers and with “[everyone] here to support you for all your good work” — which didn’t really feel like “work” at all, because “when you serve, you do it out of the goodness of your heart,” Williams told The Tidings shortly after receiving his medal.
“I didn’t need an award, because I already felt happy. … It’s about helping people,” explained Williams, who has volunteered at Alexandria House, a non-profit transitional residence for women and children, for almost four years.
At Alexandria House, he discovered a knack for working with kids —babysitting, helping with arts and crafts and organizing holiday activities. He said he also “learned responsibility” by helping with cooking, cleaning and more.
And, noted Williams, he plans to continue serving others in the future.
“Especially if I’m famous in football someday,” said the 300-plus pound, 6’2” professional football hopeful, flashing a winning smile.
Presented by the archdiocesan Department of Catholic Schools, this year’s annual Mass also recognized four exceptional Catholic school teachers: Gabriel Griffith from Crespi Carmelite High School, Encino; Juan Guzman from Santa Clara High School, Oxnard; Dwan Hurt from Junipero Serra High School, Gardena; and Brett Minter from St. Anthony High School, Long Beach.