[dropcap type=”4″]L[/dropcap]ast summer, 13-year-old Kasey Behnke, a student at St. Timothy Catholic School, traveled to Ethiopia with her mother.

That’s because Kasey had managed to raise several thousand dollars for Blessed Mother Teresa’s orphanage in the African country where some 35 million people live in abject poverty. She also saved enough money from Christmas, birthday gifts and babysitting to pay her plane fare for the trip.

Tonya Behnke, Kasey’s mom, said service has always been a focus of their family life.

“I think it’s really important that the kids learn at an early age that life isn’t about them. It’s about serving others and doing what you are called to do,” Tonya said. “She started volunteering at Paz de Cristo two or three years ago.”

Kasey is one of 37 eighth-graders who were recognized March 3 for living out the Christian call to service in extraordinary ways. The students, who currently attend Catholic, public and private schools, each received Christian Service Award scholarships to Catholic high schools in the Diocese of Phoenix.

The awards program, sponsored by the Catholic Community Foundation, began in 2001 with just four scholarships. This year it’s expanded to 37, the largest number ever, with $296,000 awarded by donors. The scholarships pay $2,000 toward tuition during each year the award recipients attend a Catholic high school in the Phoenix Diocese.

Kasey is the oldest of 11 children, seven of whom are adopted, and some of her adopted siblings are from Ethiopia. Serving others really touched Kasey’s heart, Tonya said.

“She said, ‘Mom, what if we went to Ethiopia and raised money for the Missionaries of Charity Sisters and gave them money so they could help the poor?’”

Kasey then wrote a letter to friends and family, hoping to raise $2,000. She and her mom ultimately brought a whopping $7,435 plus 200 pounds of donations to the east African nation.

The trip to Ethiopia was an eye-opener for Kasey, her mom said. “She didn’t realize how we are so blessed here in the U.S. and the immense poverty in other places…They have nothing to rely on but God.”

Brigitte Dayton, vice president of corporate and community relations for CCF, pointed toward Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted’s “State of the Church” address last fall in which he extolled the many examples of service in the diocese.

Jesus, the bishop said, “calls us to serve those whom this culture discards, saying ‘Whatever you do to the least of my brothers and sisters, you do to me.’ This happens on a large scale here in Phoenix.”

Highlighting the service recipients had given, Dayton agreed, adding that the CSA scholarships provide both “an opportunity to make Catholic education more accessible and affordable and also inspire service.”

Former recipients, such as the Frere family, were so thankful for the scholarship funds they received through the CSA program, they are now donors themselves, Dayton said.

Pamela Hammond, who helps coordinate the scholarship program, said the committee found it difficult to choose from a field of 89 applicants. Each student had to write an essay, supply three letters of reference and be interviewed.

Some students, she said, were involved in packing food for organizations like Feed My Starving Children. Others founded their own non-profits, volunteered reading to disadvantaged children or brought their gifts of music and dance to cheer up nursing home residents.

“One girl knit prayer shawls for the St. Peregrine cancer shrine,” Dayton said.

Fr. Ernesto Reynoso, JCL, serves on the committee that chose recipients.

“It’s not about financial need, it’s more about rewarding people who really want to make a difference by serving others and serving like Christ,” Fr. Reynoso said. “At their young age, they have discovered that serving others is where joy is.”

2015 Christian Service Award Recipients

  • Joel Almodovar, Bourgade Catholic High School
  • Grace Elizabeth Clark, Bourgade Catholic High School
  • Jaiden Trinity Gatson, Bourgade Catholic High School
  • Elizabeth Margret Morreale, Bourgade Catholic High School
  • Kaleo Daniel Bolosan, Brophy College Preparatory
  • Andrew Gregory Cardellini, Brophy College Preparatory
  • Brooks Fanger, Brophy College Preparatory
  • Joseph Gregory Hensel, Brophy College Preparatory
  • Brenden Michael Hoogesteger, Brophy College Preparatory
  • Michael Nathaniel Manganiello, Brophy College Preparatory
  • Brady Thomas O’Gara, Brophy College Preparatory
  • Matthew Albert Scheller, Jr., Brophy College Preparatory
  • Jason Patrick Siegle, Brophy College Preparatory
  • Nathan O’Malley Simmons, Brophy College Preparatory
  • Kasey Julia Behnke, Notre Dame Preparatory
  • Adam Scott Boyer, Notre Dame Preparatory
  • Caitlin Nicole Cordovana, Notre Dame Preparatory
  • Michael A. Minniti, Notre Dame Preparatory
  • Aidan Sanford, Saint Mary’s Catholic High School
  • Hannah Grace Sullivan, Saint Mary’s Catholic High School
  • Jacob Shajin Sullivan, Saint Mary’s Catholic High School
  • Courtney Elizabeth Gertson, Seton Catholic Preparatory High School
  • Harrison Foster Geryk, Seton Catholic Preparatory High School
  • Katherine Angelica McCreadie, Seton Catholic Preparatory High School
  • Benjamin Douglas Regalado, Seton Catholic Preparatory High School
  • Ashley Elizabeth Banaszak ,Xavier College Preparatory
  • Clare Dacey Carlson, Xavier College Preparatory
  • Talle Lamar Donley, Xavier College Preparatory
  • Felicity Grace Hacker, Xavier College Preparatory
  • Katherine Taylor Holmes, Xavier College Preparatory
  • Haley Ann Hoyle ,Xavier College Preparatory
  • Bridget Ryan Kelly, Xavier College Preparatory
  • Izabella Mancilla, Xavier College Preparatory
  • Kelli Christine Rasmussen, Xavier College Preparatory
  • Rileigh Erin Walsh, Xavier College Preparatory
  • Savannah Lynn Wasson, Xavier College Preparatory
  • Anne Murphy Wuycheck, Xavier College Preparatory