Vicki Shepherd is a marketing professional at Guidant Group and serves as a member of CEF's Board of Directors.
He told me his name was Angel. Because I believe there are always angels among us, I wanted to know him better.
He was in second grade, like my son, and he too liked recess, video games and the Royals. Spelling and math were his favorite subjects, also like my son. My son often asks, "When will dad be home?" anticipating a game of catch in the yard, so I asked Angel about his family and baseball.
That's when his bright brown eyes dropped and he shifted in his chair next to me. "He's not here anymore." With a tone more somber than any 8 year old should have, he told me his story, and my heart broke. A boy similar to my own, yet his life experience so different.
Angel was one of several CEF scholarship recipients I met last spring at St. Paul School in Olathe. While their stories are unique, they all have one thing in common: hardship that leads to poverty, or poverty that leads to hardship. Medical issues, unemployment or family dynamics - each student has a story to tell that's real; the struggles endured by his or her family, and the impacts of poverty he or she never asked for, but lives with every day.
Yet, like Angel, these CEF students are joyful in their love of the Catholic faith and the opportunity to live it at school. They love to learn and be with friends. They love the Mass, sacraments, daily prayer and religion class. They love their teachers, the parish priest and the school community where they belong.
And like Angel, attending Catholic school gives these CEF students hope. One boy told me how he was bullied for praying at his old school, so he and his friends would secretly pray in Spanish so the bullies wouldn't understand. But now, he looks forward to group prayer. Another boy has taken prayer to his baseball team. To help her mom attend college classes, another student helps with her younger siblings after school. They are all spreading hope to others.
I too went to an elementary school called St. Paul. This summer, I brought my kids to my hometown in Worthington, Iowa, and we drove by my school. It is now closed and the building for sale, a fate similar to many other Catholic grade schools. The kids in that area no longer have the choice to grow in faith through school, which made me think about Angel, at his St. Paul school, and wonder where he would be without a resource like CEF.
When I volunteered at St. Paul in Olathe that day, my intent was to "give back." But as God would have it, through Angel, it was He who gave back to me. I left with the gift of compassion and understanding for real hardship, real joy and real hope. I left seeing how these CEF students play an important role in keeping the Catholic faith alive and the schools in our Archdiocese thriving.
I ask that you take a moment to pray for these CEF students, for their joy today and for a bright future. These kids are praying for you too, in gratitude for the gift you give them through your donation, and for more of their peers to receive the blessing of a CEF scholarship, along with the hope it brings. I am praying for you too, for your heart to be moved to give as little or as much as you can to CEF. There are 454 more kids out there like Angel, in need of a scholarship, ready to be an angel among us.