Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted is seen here with Christian Service Award recipients March 4 outside the Tempe Center for the Arts. The eighth-graders are headed to a Catholic high school with an $8,000 scholarship.
Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted is seen here with Christian Service Award recipients March 4 outside the Tempe Center for the Arts. The eighth-graders are headed to a Catholic high school with an $8,000 scholarship.

They can’t operate a motor vehicle, but 32 high school-bound eighth-graders across the Diocese of Phoenix know what drives them: a life centered on faith and service to others.

They took that love for the Church to heart by racking up extensive hours of community service during their junior high school years. As a result, donors throughout the diocese agreed to invest in their future by helping fund their Catholic high school education.

The Catholic Community Foundation bestowed those scholarships — $2,000 per year of Catholic high school — in the form of a Christian Service Award March 4 at Tempe Center for the Arts. The $256,000 in awards went to the top students whose community outreach, letters of recommendation and interview slightly set them apart in a competitive grants process, which is now it its 17th year.

“In the world, we often hear negativity about the actions of our youth; it is nice that this program can recognize the great volunteerism that the youth in our community does and reward these great kids for living service-focused lives,” said Keith Maio, chairman of the Christian Service Awards Committee.

“All of them are so deserving,” said Nicole Sullivan, who went through the selection process for the third time, this year with her son, Thomas.

She knows they all embraced their duty as Catholics to give back to those less fortunate. Nicole tells her children that earning a service-based scholarship is their way of supporting their Catholic education.

Thomas admitted it can be hard to make time to lend a helping hand, especially when there’s a narrow window of opportunity between prior commitments. Sullivan has juggled academics with athletics and student council duties at St. Gregory for three years, lending support to every school activity. A teacher even spotted him washing and detailing the school bus.

Thomas said helping the school is one way of showing that teachers are challenging him to do his best. He’s eager to continue growing in faith at St. Mary’s High School where two siblings — also Christian Service Award recipients — attend and where he plans to get involved in a project to build homes for Native Americans in northern Arizona.

He said the Catholic faith means the world to him.

“Jesus died on a cross for us. I want to be able to do that for someone,” Thomas said.

In a way, he has.

Besides leading fellow students, Thomas mentors 85 students who enter the Dream Center during the evening meal in the family dining room at the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. Beyond that, his family has spent the last six years reaching out to refugee families in the parish and in their neighborhood with clothing and other gifts several times a year.

A family project helped Bridget Hodges’ service efforts stand out too. The Christ the King parishioner responded to a call out in a summer bulletin three years ago to knit prayer shawls for patients being remembered at the St. Peregrine Cancer Shrine on site.

“It was a really fun way to work with my hands and help people at the same time,” Hodges told The Catholic Sun.

Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted poses with Christian Service Award recipients March 4 outside of the Tempe Center for the Arts. The eighth graders all headed to a local Catholic high school with an $8000 scholarship. (Courtesy photo)

2014 Christian Service Award Recipients

  • Taylor Abeln
  • Axenia Alo
  • Tatym Bonheimer
  • George William Boyer
  • Stephen Timothy Buckel
  • Mary Angela Chavarria
  • Madysen Couture
  • Allisa Evans
  • Remy Feagles
  • John Michael Ferrara
  • Alexander Fessler
  • Kyle Gunzy
  • Michael Gregory Hemmerlin
  • AnnaMarie Frances Heslin
  • Bridget Gabrielle Hodges
  • Carson Ellis Kurtz
  • Nicole Kusen
  • Lucy Lawler
  • Mary Long
  • Alexis Nicole Lopez
  • Meghan Elizabeth Pipitone
  • Victoria Ramirez
  • Madison Reinhart
  • Tatiana Mirella Rosales
  • Sebastian Sandoval
  • Allison Lee Scardello
  • Patrick Keenan Schramm
  • Anna Sera
  • Kelly Spinner
  • Thomas E. Sullivan
  • Paige VanConant
  • Gillian Marie Vaughn