Eighth-graders with hearts rooted in service vie for scholarship awards

Each fall yields a fresh crop of highly-deserving eighth-graders seeking a Christian Service Award. Exactly 144 students applied. Only 115 were invited for an in-person interview Dec. 10 to discuss how their service — at least 100 hours over two years — has molded them into young Catholic leaders. Less than one-third will receive a scholarship in the spring.

The selection process is under way. Among them are two young men whose heart for service already prompted them to pursue nonprofit status for their efforts: Grayson Gaspard and Seamus Simmons.

Only time will tell if they’re among the 34 selected as recipients of a Christian Service Award. Recipients earn privately-funded scholarships — $2,000 each year the student attends a local Catholic high school — that are housed with the Catholic Community Foundation. Awarded or not, the young men intend to continue their endeavors.

Never Without
Grayson Gaspard is an eighth-grader at Most Holy Trinity School
Grayson Gaspard is an eighth-grader at Most Holy Trinity School

Gaspard, an eighth-grader at Most Holy Trinity, said Jesus calls him to use his gift of compassion. Responding to that call means that individuals without food or hope standing on street corners in his Sunnyslope neighborhood won’t be so overlooked anymore.

Gaspard formed Never Without last school year to provide small packages of food and toiletries to those on the streets. More importantly, each treat bag also includes a small, handmade note of inspiration. Gaspard and an array of volunteers select a noun such as “hope,” “faith,” “love” or “grace” to follow the words “Never Without.”

“I give out three to four bags a week and I know I can be giving out more,” Gaspard said, shortly after beginning his Thanksgiving vacation.

Logo for "Never WIthout," an effort spearheaded by Grasyson Gaspard as a seventh-grader.
Logo for “Never WIthout,” an effort spearheaded by Grasyson Gaspard as a seventh-grader.

The effort began after Gaspard found himself without a decent way to help a stranger on a street corner. It was a Sunday and he was riding home with his sister from a football game.

“Her eyes met a needy, hungry, homeless person” at a red light, Gaspard wrote in a special column in the Moon Valley Tattler. They offered him a half-eaten bag of popcorn left over from their tailgate.

“It was all we had, and that lonely, desperate hand was incredibly thankful for our close-to-nothing donation,” he wrote.

Gaspard vowed not to be caught without a way to help the homeless again.

This is one of the roughly 300 "Never Without" treat bags that Grayson Gaspard for which spearheaded the assembly process. (courtesy photo)
This is one of the roughly 300 “Never Without” treat bags that Grayson Gaspard for which spearheaded the assembly process. (courtesy photo)

“Let’s have something ready to go,” he said. Family, friends and Most Holy Trinity students have pitched in ever since. The school’s National Junior Honor Society spearheaded a collection of materials, everything from granola bars to water bottles to wipes to storage bags. They assembled over 100 bags.

The North Valley League of Boys Team Charity plans to adopt Never Without in February. Their goal is to create 300 treat bags.

Gaspard is thrilled that seventh- through 12th-graders will know about Never Without. He knows there are plenty of homeless individuals and hopes the idea inspires others to keep their own stock of treat bags on hand.

When he hands the treat bag to a stranger, he sees a smile on their face. “They know that people are caring about them and thinking about them. It leaves something special in my heart,” Gaspard said.

Re-Pack Project

Something special formed in Seamus Simmons’ heart when he saw how easy it was to help others in a profound way. He began collecting school supplies at the end of the year and taking them where there is great need.

The Ss. Simon and Jude eighth-grader formed the Re-Pack Project under the Re: Help Organization. He recently filed paperwork for nonprofit status.

Simmons travels with his family each summer as part of “Travel With Kids,” a TV series his family produces and stars in that offers Family Adventure Tours too. It’s largely international destinations and includes a service opportunity.

A trip to Africa four years ago inspired the project. The physical poverty in African villages was shocking, especially when Simmons saw their spirits remained high.

“They’re so humble and gracious for what little they do have,” Simmons said.

Classrooms in Africa were overcrowded and students often had to share supplies. As his own sixth-grade year came to an end, Simmons saw Ss. Simon and Jude students — himself included — throwing out usable supplies so they could get newer ones in a few months.

Simmons and his brother, Nathan, were taught by their parents to always help, whether it was conservation efforts or individuals. Simmons described his school’s energy as helping others too. The boys organized a small group of students who placed collection boxes around school.

Boys, including Nathan and Seamus Simmons, right, rest while sorting through school supplies fellow Ss. Simon and Jude students donated to the Re: Pack effort. (courtesy photo)
Boys, including Nathan and Seamus Simmons, right, rest while sorting through school supplies fellow Ss. Simon and Jude students donated to the Re-Pack project. (courtesy photo)

“We had to sort, clean and sometimes sew up backpacks,” Simmons said. That included testing every marker and pen.

They took careful inventory, too, and then re-packed backpacks with essential items for students in Africa. The total: nearly 10,000 items. They made their first delivery in 2014 — 60 backpacks. Last year netted 15,000 items and the effort has spread to seven schools in multiple states.

“It’s so amazing to see these kids smile about the smallest stuff we take for granted here,” Simmons said.

His charity efforts held special outreaches under the broader Re: Help Organization, to bring 600 toys to kids in need at the Arizona-Mexico border as a “Re-Wrap” effort. A “Re-Tie” project bore fruit over the summer when Simmons brought collected shoes to Cambodia.

A man in that small village was speechless when he learned the shoes were for the kids. He tried to say no at first, perhaps assuming someone else was in more dire need.

“He doesn’t know what America is like. He just thinks poverty is across the world,” Simmons said.

“The thing I was most shocked by was they couldn’t walk for three minutes because they’ve never had shoes on their feet,” Simmons said.

The Re-Pack Project has spread to Africa and Thailand with Fiji and possibly Peru on tap next summer. Simmons isn’t even a high school freshman yet, but knows he wants to lead a nonprofit that teaches kids to help other kids. It will have the kids deliver needed items and report back personally or via video of the delivery.

Sr. Raphael Quinn, his principal, has no doubt about his leadership qualities.

“He can really get others motivated. His enthusiasm really catches on.”