By Jennifer Neville, Of The Catholic Virginian

A Day of Service at Portsmouth Catholic Regional School on Jan. 30 was a blessing to some and empowering to many as the students learned about service organizations in the community and how they can help as a group and as individuals.

It was the first time the school devoted an entire day of service for its 175 students from pre-k3 through eighth grade, and the day was a tremendous success, according to Donna Henry, assistant principal and first-grade teacher.

“On this amazing day, an amazing number of service efforts were happening across our amazing school,” Mrs. Henry said. “You could feel the joy that overflows when you put Jesus and others before yourself.”

That was true for third-grader Page.

“On Service Day, I learned that with the power of God we can do great things. We can do anything we set our minds to,” Page said in a written reflection. “ I really felt good. I felt I made a true heartwarming change. I would love to do it again.”

Similarly eighth-grader Elizabeth wrote that the Day of Service was “fun and a good way to spread the love of Jesus Christ and live the Gospel message.”

“I would do the Day of Service again in a heartbeat,” she wrote.

Faith, knowledge and service are the pillars of education at PCRS, the schools advancement director Mark Zafra said, so the school has service projects throughout the year. For example, this year the school already has had a canned-food drive that brought in approximately 900 pounds of nonperishable food for a local social service charity, the students donated more than $300 to the organization, and the National Junior Honor Society made more than 50 fleece blankets for the newborn ward at Bon Secours Maryview Medical Center in Portsmouth.

“Service is a huge part of who we are, and we want all of our students to know they have the ability to serve others and be Christ in the world,” Mr. Zafra said.

Mrs. Henry added, “At PCRS, we put our faith into action, learn about the needs of others and respond with compassion, mercy and love. We learn to serve and serve to learn.”

The entire school worked together to donate items to benefit the homeless who will be sheltered Feb. 4 to Feb. 10 at St. Therese Parish in Chesapeake as part of an ecumenical effort through which churches in the area take turns sheltering and feeding the homeless for one week at a time during the winter. During the PCRS Day of Service, the first grade used the items to fill more than 65 toiletry bags for those guests.

PreK-3 and PreK-4 with McGruff the Crime Dog and members of the Portsmouth Police Department.                                                                                   (Photo Mark Zafra)

The Portsmouth Police Department with McGruff the Crime Dog stopped by the Pre-K3 and 4 classes to talk about safety and what the police department does to serve the community. The Pre-K3 students then put together 50 bags of candy for Portsmouth police officers to thank them for working to keep the community safe, Mrs. Henry explained.

A Day of Service also emphasized to the students that service is not just collecting and packaging items but can include a tangible way to create and design a product that will directly help a person in need.

“It’s something they can feel and touch and put their stamp on,” Mr. Zafra said. “They can put their love in it.”

For example, representatives from the Children’s Hospital of the Kings Daughters talked to the kindergarten class about their work with sick children. After learning that some patients lose their hair during chemotherapy, the kindergarteners worked with middle-school students to make chemo caps and decorate pillowcases for the children.

The first-graders painted watercolor houses for Habitat for Humanity, and students in second through fifth grades made pinecone bird feeders to put up in their community, decorated placemats for the homeless guests who will be at St. Therese, made Valentines for patients at Maryview and created bracelets and cards for the children at Maison Fortune Orphanage in Haiti.

The middle-school students learned about healthy relationships and the work of Help and Emergency Response, Inc., (H.E.R) which assists persons affected by domestic violence and homelessness. The students made cards of encouragement, created blessing stones (rocks painted with encouraging words) and filled bags with toiletries and cosmetics for those served by H.E.R. They also made prayer wreaths for local priests, t-shirt chew toys for the animals at the Humane Society, cards for the homebound and sick of local parishes and Valentine ornaments for patients at Maryview.

In their reflections, sixth-grader Chris said the Day of Service revealed “how much people struggle and just how much we can help,” first-grader Kora learned she could “turn someone’s sad day into a glad day,” and first-grader Kenley realized “you are never too young or old to help” and that just one person can make a difference.

“Jesus instructed us to serve each other, especially those in need of help. He taught us that what we do for each other, we do for him,” eighth-grader Grace remarked. “It’s really special to know that I had an impact on someone’s life. To know that I helped whole groups of people is extraordinary. Being able to help so many people is a blessing.”

As Tony, a seventh-grader, worded it: “This is what God wants us to do in our lives. He wants us to live as children of his, and to evangelize throughout each day. This is what Service Day is all about!”