For 65 students from six Chicago-area Catholic high schools, a Feb. 3 service project offered an opportunity to not only help homeless veterans, but also get to know students from other parts of the city and suburbs. The students are all recipients of the Haerther Scholarship, which provides half their Catholic school tuition. One of the expectations is an annual service project, organized each year by one of the six schools that has students in the program. This year’s project, packing bags of toiletries and basic items like socks for homeless veterans, was hosted by St. Patrick High School, 5900 W. Belmont Ave. “Each school tries to do something that addresses a need in their own area,” said Joe Smailis, the St. Patrick teacher who helped put the project together. “So the students travel to a different part of the city, work with kids from different neighborhoods and learn about their needs.” Four Jesuit high schools in the Chicago area — Cristo Rey, Christ the King and St. Ignatius in Chicago and Loyola Academy in Wilmette — have held a joint Jesuit Day of Service on Presidents Day for nine straight years. One school hosts the program every year, holding a Mass and icebreakers. Then students are sent in groups to various service sites. “It’s a good chance for the students from all the Jesuit high schools to build a community,” said Rocio Juarez, service coordinator in campus ministry for Cristo Rey, which hosted the event this year. “We’re all spread around Chicago. It’s a good way for them to meet each other and reach out to the larger community of Chicago, and just experience that mission of being men and women for others.” About 150 students participated in the day, which is voluntary, and they served at a dozen sites. The day starts each year with Mass and with students sharing what they do as volunteers throughout the school year, Juarez said. “That’s what draws them in, is that they get to meet other students,” she said. St. Patrick chose to work with Rags of Honor, a silk-screening company founded by St. Pat’s alumnus and trustee Mark Doyle, to provide employment opportunities to homeless veterans. As part of the company’s outreach, it provides care packages to veterans living on the street, and works with area organizations that aid homeless people to identify veterans who need a job. Doyle came to the school and told the students — who attend St. Patrick, Brother Rice, Mother McAuley, Trinity, Holy Trinity and De La Salle high schools — about getting to know service members when he spent a year in Afghanistan as a contractor doing forensic accounting, and then coming home and realizing how many veterans were on the streets. “After about a year back here, I just could not stand back and do nothing while guys and women were living in their cars and shelters,” Doyle said. So he started Rags of Honor and visited homeless shelters to find veterans to hire. That business has now expanded to include coffee roasting, and he hopes to add a coffee roastery and brewpub in Pullman next year, more than doubling the full-time staff made up of veterans. The service project gave Doyle the opportunity to share that story with students. About a quarter of them raised their hands when asked if they had a family member or someone they knew who was a veteran or active duty service member. “They really bought into what we were doing, and why we were doing it,” Doyle said. “I told them, ‘When you all leave here, you’re going to go home to nice, warm house, and a nice dinner, and 100,000 veterans are going not have that. To those that much is given, much is expected. There are those that wear the uniform for you who end up needing our help. Remember that you can make a difference in the world around you every single day. Have a sense that there are people around you every day that need our help. If you remember nothing else, just remember that.’” In this case, they also learned something about the power of community. The plan was for the Haerther Scholars to collect items to fill the care packages at each of their schools during Catholic Schools Week, and then bring them together and assemble the packages. But when they finished the care packages, there were boxes and boxes of donated supplies left over, which would be distributed to other charities. Doyle said he will deliver those items to Thresholds, an organization that helps people with mental illness and addictions; and Volunteers of America.