Lourdes offers program to teach empathy, compassion

Record Photo by Ruby Thomas
A group of students from Nativity Academy and Our Lady of Lourdes School gathered at Nativity, 529 East Liberty St., Dec. 12 to prepare sack lunches for homeless people.

By Ruby Thomas, Record Staff Writer
Amidst laughter and chit chatter, close to two dozen middle schoolers quickly assembled sack lunches in the cafeteria of Nativity Academy Dec. 12.

The group — consisting of eighth-graders from Our Lady of Lourdes School and Nativity Academy — packed about 30 sack lunches and walked them over to Wayside Christian Mission on East Jefferson Street, where they handed out the lunches to homeless individuals.

The students from Our Lady of Lourdes were visiting Nativity to help the students form relationships as part of Lourdes’ “Giving Circles” program.

The program, which is in its second year, was created by Lourdes’ counselor Anna Church to foster empathy and compassion.

Church said “Giving Circles” is modeled on St. Francis of Assisi School’s “Peace Families” program created by teacher Fred Whittaker.

She tweaked the Peace Families model, adding a component that includes parish mentors to better suit Our Lady of Lourdes, Church said.

“The core I kept is the idea that we’re very blessed to have our needs met, so what can we learn and what gifts can we gain from people who aren’t so fortunate?” said Church.

The program is three-tiered — students learn about compassionate listening, hear from speakers and do service work with parish mentors, said Church.

The students start the program in seventh grade with the compassionate listening component, where they learn different listening techniques, she said.

“Compassionate listening is listening with your heart. It’s being present with people not to give advice, answers or opinions, but to be present and listen,” said Church.

To help students learn this, she brings in speakers who share their life experiences.

Seventh-graders also do a day-long service project at Catholic Charities, Americana Community Center, Kentucky Refugee Ministries and Hand in Hand Ministries.

The students meet their mentors, Our Lady of Lourdes parishioners, in seventh grade and start building a relationship with them.
Church said there’s often a disconnect between the parish and the school. She wanted to bridge that gap with this program.

“We’re a community. The school is a ministry of the parish. We want to integrate that more, to be more of a whole community,” she said.

Barbara and Anthony Taylor have been parishioners of Our Lady of Lourdes for more than 30 years and are now serving as mentors in the Giving Circles program. Their three children graduated from the school and they wanted to give back and re-connect, they said.

The Taylors, who have accompanied students as they visit the elderly at Nazareth Home, noted the students have “been excellent representatives of our parish and a good sign of what goes on at the school,” said Anthony Taylor.

The eighth-grade class visits four sites in the community — but not for service work.

These visits are aimed at forming relationships, said Church. The sites are Nativity Academy, Pitt Academy, Cochran Elementary School and Nazareth Home. The class is broken into groups and each group visits one site four times during the school year.

“We’re not going there to ‘help you,’ but to collaborate and learn from each other,” said Church.
Barbara Taylor said she’s been “impressed” by the way students treat each other.

“They’re very kind and supportive of each other,” she said. “Being of service to others is a lifelong journey and I hope its something they’ll do throughout their life.”

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