Philipstowners Volunteer for San Miguel Academy

by Alison Rooney

About two years ago, several of the parishioners at Garrison’s St. Philips Church sought to expand their outreach programs.  Along with working with a program for the homeless and at a domestic violence shelter in Orange County, many had traveled, some several times, to work on the rebuilding of New Orleans, post-hurricane Katrina.  Parishioner Jim Bopp was coordinating many of these efforts, which have attracted, by his estimation, about two-thirds “members of the church” and one-third others, under the St. Philip’s volunteerism umbrella.  The first St. Philips involvement at San Miguel Academy was in volunteering to paint the classrooms.  Soon, this expanded greatly.

Philipstowners are now leading volunteer efforts at the school in myriad ways, including:

Each Wednesday eight tutors, including two retired teachers, two nurses and a mother/teenage daughter pair head across the river to work with the fifth-graders.

There’s a monthly film-viewing/discussion club, which has now expanded into a book club, and the hungry viewers/readers are fed by more volunteers who have organized a cooking club.

Between 7 and 12 leaders organize the outdoor club and take the kids hiking on 3 1/2 –hour long treks, all within a half hour of the school, trying to do things which have a focus, for instance learning to read a trail map.

San Miguel Academy volunteer Nat Prentice, with two students (Photo by A. Rooney)

San Miguel Academy volunteer Nat Prentice, with two students (Photo by A. Rooney)

Garrison’s Nat Prentice helps out in a very specific way: he liaises with prep schools and other institutions, communicating information about San Miguel Academy and the kind of students it is producing, and he works with Fr. Mark to facilitate interviews and preparation for interviews for the boys. He says, “The boys seem to sense that they are the frontier.  If you can crack down the door and get them through  — take one of these kids  — a tradition is born.  We’re looking to place boys in the same programs that other, similar demographics programs are chasing too.  But there’s something about our guys — they do so well when they go into these environments that the headmaster says “give me another one.”  They bring so much to the culture of the school.  As tough as the streets are, they give these kids a skillset. They can be chameleons, very good at adapting.  We thought the transition would be tough for them but it’s been easy.”

More volunteers are always welcome, as Bopp explains, “A lot of the parents have two or more jobs so this gives the kids adults in their lives.”  Prospective volunteers usually “shadow” first, seeing what’s entailed and what the best fit is.  Bopp says everyone is happy to help, both to benefit the students and Father Mark, of whom Bopp says, “What I find so remarkable is that Fr. Mark never gives up.  If kids are in distress, he doesn’t give up, and he’s so skilled and talented.  There’s a lot to admire.”

To learn more, call St. Philips at 845-424-3571 — leave a message on the machine if it’s unattended, or email [email protected]

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