At Catholic Charities, volunteers are essential to helping us care for the most vulnerable in the archdiocese. More than 15,000 volunteers offer their compassion and assistance each year and without their help, we simply could not do all that we do to help those in need. An increasingly important group of Catholic Charities’ volunteers are students from local elementary and high schools. Young people have always volunteered at Catholic Charities, but over the past several years our relationships with many schools have become more formalized as schools strive to have more structured social-ministry programs that help their students see beyond the classroom. Parents and educators alike recognize the importance of giving students meaningful opportunities to put their faith into action. Student volunteers work with Catholic Charities in a multitude of ways, such as helping at our health fairs, serving dinners to the hungry and homeless, playing with or reading to children in our early childhood centers, providing tutoring and homework help in our after-school programs, providing one-on-one companionship to seniors, organizing collection drives, helping clients in our food pantries and clothing rooms, painting and cleaning our service sites and much more. Catholic Charities is so grateful for our young volunteers because they bring a unique vibrancy and energy to our programs. To the children we serve, our student volunteers are full of fun ideas and interesting stories. They have the stamina and patience to play endless games, read as many books as the children want and provide tutoring and help with homework for as long as it takes. Our high school volunteers in particular become tremendous role models for the children, as the children see older youth who value education, are engaged in positive activities and who are excited about the future. For the seniors Catholic Charities serves, our student volunteers spark a hope and happiness that is inspiring to watch. Especially for seniors without grandchildren nearby, interacting with young people reignites the passion for life and gives them the companionship that is often missing in their lives. Students gain from their volunteer experiences the knowledge that they can make a difference in people’s lives. They witness the smiles and the gratitude. They have personal interactions with people from different races, different cultures and different backgrounds. They begin to see that they are a part of an entire community that extends beyond their family, their friends and their neighborhoods. They see the largeness of the church and know they are a part of something very positive and far reaching. Volunteering at young ages shows young people how to integrate their faith beyond Sunday Mass and into their daily lives. Young people learn firsthand that serving others is an essential part of being Christian. Suddenly, the Gospel comes to life and they are living Mathew’s Gospel, “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me” (Mt 25:35-36). The best part about Catholic Charities’ student volunteers is that they always want to do more. It is so important that we instill this hunger to serve in young people because it will last a lifetime. As we have learned from so many of Catholic Charities dedicated board members and adult volunteers who were involved in service in their youth, having the service bug bite young imbeds the desire to serve forever in our hearts. Catholic Charities is entirely grateful for the hope and inspiration that our young volunteers bring to our programs, and we are honored to be a part of their journey to becoming faith-filled, compassionate, well-rounded leaders of tomorrow.