The smell of warm macaroni and cheese wafts through the air. The happy chatter of two strangers becoming friends fills the room. A modest room in downtown Atlanta becomes a home filled with food and fellowship when BT students meet inner city teens in the service program Stand Up for Kids.
BT first became involved in Stand Up when BT theology teacher Toni Vilardi met members of the program on the Hunger Walk six years ago. They described themselves as a national outreach center organization that worked with homeless and at-risk youth. Abby Korn, a BT junior who has served several times through the program, has come to a greater sense of gratitude through the program. “I would recommend it to others because we all need to know that as secure as our lives may seem, we’re not as far away from that lifestyle as we think.”
Through Ms. Vilardi, the BT branch of St. Vincent de Paul began serving with Stand Up, and it has only become more popular in the past six years. Currently, about 5-8 students (all members of SVdP) serve with the program at each opportunity.
The idea behind the program is simple. Once every few weeks, BT students and faculty bring much-needed food and friendship to underprivileged kids in metro Atlanta, heating up cooked dishes that they brought and sharing conversation, jokes, and even songs. It is a valuable experience for everyone involved, as Ms. Vilardi can attest. “This service is face to face with those in need. Though the folks we are serving are different in most life experiences, they are alike in most desires for love and security,” she said.
Abby has learned over time how to relate to those who are struggling. “I learned that sometimes people, not of their own accord, can get into bad circumstances. And they have to keep moving forward and rely on those people who are willing to help them, especially when it’s young people who haven’t had much experience in being independent,” she said. “They need stability.”
Participants also find Stand Up to be a source of great joy and laughter. “One of my most memorable Stand Up experiences involved a boy named Matthew,” said Ms. Ann Birth, assistant campus ministry coordinator. “He comes there often, but he hadn’t been there in a while and I was worried about him. I was talking to a social worker about him when he walked through the door. I am a hugger, so I gave him a big hug before he said to me ‘Who are you again ma’am?’ It was still a very good experience because I was able to finally see him again!”
Although all of BT’s service clubs, from Habitat for Humanity to ignite, have given students meaningful experiences, Stand Up has been known to be especially worthwhile. “I came to a deeper understanding of Christ with Stand Up,” said junior Luke Donovan.
As Ms. Vilardi put it, “Our kids are a blessing to the youth at Stand Up, and the youth at Stand Up bless us in return. We learn compassion and we learn to allow ourselves to be used by God to love one another.”