“Service” at the Heart of Holy Family Cristo Rey’s Success

By:  Cyrondys Jackson

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama (March 18, 2022) – Three high school students.  Three different families and backgrounds, with three very different stories.  All are scholars, with goals and aspirations to work with and inspire their generation to serve community and mankind, as God has called them to do.  As diverse as their stories are, Cameron Cole, Brian Hunter, and Alex Roberto, each share a single passion- service to others.

Cameron, Brian, and Alex are students matriculating at Holy Family Cristo Rey High School in Birmingham, Alabama.  The school sits quietly tucked away in the Titusville community, and according to its website, is one of 38 Catholic, college and career preparatory high schools, in a network that “delivers a powerful and innovative approach to inner-city education.”  Founded by the Congregation of the Passion in 1943, the school originally opened in the Ensley community.  The high school moved into its current home in 2019.  Bethany Knighten, Holy Family Cristo Rey High School Principal, said the school prioritizes educational and personal development to ensure “students will have a strong, meaningful influence on their friends, families, and communities that promote positive change in our society.”

Holy Family Cristo Rey High School serves nearly 230 students, in grades ninth through 12th.  The school supports scholars from economically disadvantaged families and households, whose income falls between 185 % – 250 % of the poverty level, according to Director of Recruitment, Shequita Malone. Scholars engage in college preparatory education and four years of corporate work experience to give them a heads up and the equity needed to persist in college and adulthood.

A highlight of the school’s curriculum includes community service exposure and engagement.  “While they may come from disadvantaged circumstances, our scholars are committed to serving others and their communities, and we want to give them every opportunity to do so because we believe they are Birmingham’s future workforce, community, faith, and business leaders,” said Malone.

This service commitment prompted students participating in the Christian Service Program or “CSP,” to coordinate a school-based service project, in which scholars collected hygiene supplies to be donated to The Salvation Army Greater Birmingham Area Command.  CSP scholars began pooling supplies such as soap, toothpaste, toothbrushes, deodorant, lotion, and hygiene wipes.  The items were assembled and delivered to The Center of Hope and donated to the Social Services Program for distribution.   Personal hygiene supplies are useful resources for people experiencing homelessness and helps to prevent hygiene related illnesses.

According to Matt Smith, Director of Campus Ministry and Formation, The Christian Service Program encourages students to bring the school’s core values to life:  faith, love, justice, responsible conduct, and learning.  Scholars are strongly encouraged to engage in acts of service to the community above the minimum participation requirement.  “Involvement in community service helps with the development of empathy, and this affords our scholars the opportunity to be more understanding of people who are different from them, as well as people whose life circumstances have not allowed them to flourish,” said Smith.

Greater Birmingham Area Commander, Major Robert Lyle, said partnering on community service projects with the students, helps expose younger generations to the work and impact of The Salvation Army.  “It’s always important that we open the doors to allow future generations to experience how God is transforming lives at The Salvation Army, so they can return to their homes and communities and engage in the same work, making the same sacrifices and giving to others.”

Service to others and the communities they live in looks different for the three scholars we spoke with.  Junior, Alex Roberto, a bilingual scholar, provided translation services for a medical clinic administering COVID-19 vaccines.  Alex also works in the school’s office and is often the first point of contact for visitors.  “It is important that I communicate and conduct myself in a positive manner so that I continue to make my family and teachers proud of what they have given me.”

Cameron Cole and Brian Hunter served as volunteers with Greater Birmingham Ministries, and both students recalled the positive impact their volunteer experiences had on them.  “I represent where I came from, and I’ve had some hard times, so to overcome challenges and be able to serve someone else makes me feel like I am doing something that will make my family proud, and it makes me proud,” Hunter said.

Senior, Cameron Cole, said the corporate work experience and civic engagement offered at Holy Family Cristo Rey High School, has helped shape him as a student scholar, and as a young man.  “It doesn’t matter where you come from, only where you want to go, and how you can leave a positive legacy.  We grow up as students here, learning to serve others, and lead other people to service as well,” said Brian.

Brian and Alex are preparing for a summer of employment and more volunteer experiences, while Cameron, who graduates in May, plans to pursue a career in Psychology, and has been accepted to 23 colleges.

Train up a child in the way he should go,
And when he is old he will not depart from it.- Proverbs 22:6