Bostonians visit Holy Family

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 10, 2003

NATCHEZ &045; A splash of color enlivens the small flower bed on Orange Avenue alongside the Holy Family Catholic Church and School complex. In the courtyard where children play, fresh paint and careful repairs provide evidence of recent work there.

With a week of labor and a world of love, more than 20 students from Boston College once again have come on their biannual visit, giving time and talents to the 128 children at the historic school they have adopted as their own during the past five years. Friday morning they began the long trip back to Massachusetts.

&uot;The children love them,&uot; said the Rev. Bob Zawacki, pastor at Holy Family. &uot;Parents tell me this is all the children talk about at home when the students are here.&uot;

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The association between the college and Holy Family began with Sister Marie Santry, a nun and former principal at the school who has studied at Boston College.

Students, most of them education majors, vie for the privilege of making the trip and, once chosen, conduct many fund raisers to pay their way to Mississippi for the work week &045; once at winter break and once at spring break.

Meghan Duffy is a senior and an education major who has made the trip before. She returned this time as a group leader.

&uot;As a group we have a feeling that we make a difference for these children,&uot; she said, smiling as she acknowledged the several colors of paint on her white T-shirt resulting from the day’s work on Thursday. &uot;We all bring different talents. People do this purely for the love of these children.&uot;

The children, ranging from pre-kindergarten to fourth grade, gain not only refreshed school facilities but also extra activities such as arts, crafts and sports provided by the students.

&uot;And they love piggy-back rides. That has become something they have come to expect,&uot; Duffy said. &uot;The kids are so great, and there is such a warm and friendly atmosphere here.&uot;

Lang Le, an economics major, stood over the small flowerbed, pulling grass and weeds and preparing to plant fresh flowers as he explained the joy of providing a boost to the children and school.

&uot;This is the second time for me to come,&uot; Le said. &uot;The most gratifying part is the interaction with the kids. This group brings a lot of love, care and concern for the children.&uot;

The college students also have opportunities to meet older children of the church who attend youth groups there. &uot;It’s good for them to meet us. We’ve come from far away and give them a sense that people can go anywhere.&uot;

Chris Bodnar, a senior majoring in communications and history, has a new-found respect for teaching since his first trip to work at Holy Family.

&uot;This is my second winter break to spend here,&uot;

he said. &uot;Last year I came on kind of a whim. I didn’t know anyone who was going. I found all these people incredibly dedicated.&uot;

As a result of his time spent at the school, Bodnar applied for and was accepted by the Teach for America program, a two-year commitment that will take him somewhere in the Mississippi Delta to teach upper elementary students beginning in the fall.

Bodnar has found the Deep South, Mississippi specifically, different from what he expected. &uot;I never thought about how similar it is for these kids at Holy Family as it was for me growing up in Connecticut,&uot; he said. &uot;I am very impressed with how well they are up to speed with kids in other people in the country.&uot;

Le said his experience at Holy Family will influence his actions in the future. &uot;My passion will be to help out in the community,&uot; he said.

Zawacki said an observer would find it difficult to determine who benefits more and who has more fun, the Holy Family youngsters or the college students.