The majority of 18-year-old high school students probably have other things on their mind than working with the homeless and serving their communities. There are just not too many high school boys who put “community service” on the top line of their agendas. At St. Rita High School, however, some students value community service and excel in their roles for their community. Recently, I was blown away by the efforts of three St. Rita seniors. At a nearby PADS homeless and food shelter, 20-25 homeless Chicagoans were treated with a dose of compassion, kindness, and warmth that was out of this world—the kind you’d expect from a priest or a nun. The St. Rita seniors, Albert Alfano (Beverly, Morgan Park Academy), Brad Dorng (Beverly, St. John Fisher), and Matt O’Donnell (Evergreen Park, Most Holy Redeemer) went above and beyond their call of community service and changed the nights in a positive way for the people they served. The three young men brought plates of food to their new friends, poured drinks and bowls of soup, and then sat down with them and engaged in friendly conversation—it was like they were eating 4th period lunch with their pals in the St. Rita Dining Hall.
And here’s what really stuck out to me: they did all of this without being prompted by me, the adult chaperone. They did it because it’s who they are and it’s what they believe in. They know they’re blessed and fortunate to be where they are, and they know the people they served were not as lucky. No one was tugging at them and telling them what to do. Albert, Brad, and Matt just did it—it was the right thing to do.
One of the more touching moments of the night came when one woman, a recent stroke victim, was picking out clothes for what was to be another long, cold night on the streets. She had difficulty walking, a side-effect of her stroke. As she stood at the basement steps unsure of her plan of attack for getting back up to the first floor, Albert grabbed her hand and walked her up step-by-step. Later, he dressed her back up in her coat, mittens, and winter hat and held her hand back to the door. My jaw nearly hit the floor. To see a young man take the initiative and assist someone like he would his own grandmother was as good as it gets. The beautiful moment will be engrained in my memory for some time. Albert, Brad, and Matt are three of the finest examples of what we consider “Ritamen” at St. Rita. These are young men who do the right thing and put others first, time and time again. I was proud that night to be associated with them. I was proud to walk out of there in a St. Rita jacket. I was proud to see future St. Rita alums in action, doing amazing work behind the scenes, when no one was watching.
They are not saints and I don’t mean to portray them as that—they aren’t seeking publicity or fame or even a pat on the back. But when we see others in our community and neighborhood struggle with some decisions and actions, we need to remind ourselves of the work of young men like this. As a reminder to ourselves, perhaps, that we, too, sometimes stray from our paths and don’t always do the best thing for ourselves and others.
St. Rita High School is filled with young men like this who impact their community in such positive ways—and they do it unconsciously and naturally, because it’s what their Augustinian beliefs call for.
Thank you for your time.
Ed Leiser '04 Director of Alumni Relations