|Jack Abrams, a parishioner at St. Philip Church in Franklin, is a co-director of a group of Father Ryan High School students who volunteer at Safe Haven Family Shelter. Photo by Andy Telli|
When you hear about peer pressure, rarely is the stress being put on a person to do something good. Yet that’s the case with Jack Abrams, a Father Ryan High School senior who began volunteering at Safe Haven Family shelter his sophomore year and promoted it to his classmates.
“I think really what happened was when I started getting involved along with some other students: The way we talked about it in regular conversations, I think other kids would hear about how much we were helping the Safe Haven kids and how much fun we were having getting along,” he said. “It got to the point where toward the end of my sophomore year, early junior year, we were having to turn (volunteers) down.”
It’s a good problem to have. Since the shelter’s program accepts entire homeless families – single-parent, two-parent and multi-generational – there are a lot of residents in need of stability, and their children are looking for homework help and positive role models.
While parents in the shelter take financial and employment classes, setting goals for their family’s self-sufficiency, the children and their high school volunteer mentors work together on math problems, tackle English homework and play games outdoors. Safe Haven calls their teenage volunteers “energetic and committed to service.”
“I remember when I was in middle school, I’d always look at older kids as being so big and inspiring,” said Abrams, a parishioner at St. Philip Church in Franklin. “Being homeless – and whether their parents were married or separated or something had happened – for them to just be going through those tough times, it was really cool to be an inspiration and helping them get through it.”
Abrams is co-director of the Safe Haven volunteer project with fellow senior Nick Tehle, a parishioner at St. Matthew Church in Franklin. Abrams gave a presentation on Safe Haven as part of a senior religion class project. At the beginning of the school year, students selected charities to volunteer with for service hours toward graduation requirements. The high school has a service-learning program because, as Dean of Campus Ministry and Student Life Elizabeth Coyle said, “service at Father Ryan is about building relationships across differences. We seek to be in solidarity with the poor and marginalized so that the world is transformed in the process.”
Out of six classes of presenters, judges chose Abrams’s charity to receive $500 on behalf of the school and the senior class. From his research for the presentation, Abrams knew the money would be well spent on appliances, linens, utensils, school supplies and more, all for homeless families’ new homes.
“When families move into Safe Haven, they get new linens and items needed for their room,” said Christopher Keller, Safe Haven’s community relations manager. “When families move out to their own housing, we try to help them by providing needed items to set up a household.”
Abrams and his peers have served more than the children at Safe Haven: They’re also moving Father Ryan teachers.
“Honestly, it leaves me speechless,” said theology teacher Janet Lytle. “It just warms my heart so much to see that when they do go (to volunteer at the shelter), they’re hooked. They’re hooked on the children.”
Lytle’s dedication to Safe Haven played a big role in Abrams wanting to embrace the shelter’s mission. He said that she and others, like American Literature teacher Matthew Puryear, have made such an impression on him that he wants to pay back the favor by studying secondary education or business administration in college and one day returning to Father Ryan to lead a new class.
“A lot of other students are like, ‘I can’t wait to get out of here and go on to what’s next,’” he said. “Of course I want to take the next step. ... That next step up would be playing a role in other kids’ lives.”
When asked what about Father Ryan feels special, he describes administrators standing at the school doors, greeting students by name. The faculty’s attention to and knowledge of each student makes the relationships built at the school unique.
“It’s something we take for granted, the level of care we get on campus,” he said. “It’s something else.”