STEUBENVILLE - Volunteering at a Catholic grade school in south Chicago was an eye-opening experience for Katie DiPiero.
Her brother, Leo, had a similar experience during two summers he spent in Bangladesh, where he volunteered as a teacher.
He will be heading to Uganda in July for a 16-month volunteer job with the overseas lay ministry with the Holy Cross priests.
VOLUNTEERISM — Katie and Leo DiPiero discuss their personal commitment to volunteer work. Katie just finished working for a year at the Academy of St. Benedict the African Elementary School in Chicago. Leo is preparing to spend 16 months in Uganda as a volunteer for the Overseas Lay Ministry with the Holy Cross priests. - Dave Gossett
Their sister, Claire, served with the Sisters of the Holy Redeemer in Philadelphia for one year, where she worked in the health care ministry of their order and lived in the religious community with other volunteers.
For the DiPieros, helping others has been a way of life that started early and has been nurtured by their family, school and church.
They are the children of Theresa and William DiPiero.
The 23-year-old Katie just finished a year of volunteer service with the Amate House Ministry for the Archdiocese of Chicago, where she worked at the Academy of St. Benedict the African Elementary School.
"Now I am preparing to work for a nonprofit organization in Chicago and will hopefully be able to see the kids at that school when I can," she said.
"It was challenging at the school. Growing up in Steubenville I lived a certain type of life where my parents took care of me. I was blessed to come from a very caring family. It was easy to forget the suffering in the world. Then I went to St. Mary's College in South Bend, Ind., and it was a school with students from middle-class families. But just one mile from our campus there were people suffering and in need," related Katie.
"I got involved in working with people in need and that's when I went to south Chicago for a year and it was a different world for me. The students were 100 percent African-American and it was a low-income area. I was talking to first- and second-graders who were asking advice about a cousin who had been shot, or a father who was incarcerated. And it really hit me this was a life a second-grader was living. The school was a safe place in a really struggling neighborhood," explained Katie.
"I saw parents who were frustrated by their struggle to pay tuition to keep their kids in the school. And I got close to the kids and heard the stress they wanted to share. It was really a life-changing year. And, I will always have an awareness and understanding for those who are suffering in life and a heart for them," she noted.
"I'm not going to stop at this point. At this point in my life, I will be working with a nonprofit organization. And I will continue doing something like that. The year in Chicago had a big impact on my life. I realized in a retrospective way how much I was protected and nurtured by my family and Holy Rosary grade school and Catholic Central High School. I was talking to kids who talked about walking by drug deals taking place on corners. That's why it was so good to see the kids on a basketball court at school and see them be children running on the grass. They could be kids without fear," Katie said.
Her brother, Leo, a 21-year-old graduate of the University of Notre Dame will be leaving in July for a three-day orientation in South Bend and then a 16-month mission trip to Uganda, where he will be a teacher.
"I felt called to do something to serve the poor on an international level. I had worked for a short period of time in Bangladesh while I was a college student, but this will be a longer commitment where I will be teaching kids in Uganda. I definitely have a desire to serve," Leo said.
"That desire came from my parents and Catholic Central. And it was pretty easy to continue serving at Notre Dame. The Catholic Church calls us to serve as well. That's why I felt called to serve with the Holy Cross priests working in Uganda," commented Leo.
"I am excited and ready to go. Part of my time at home now has been spent reflecting on the past four years, my family, my church and my faith. And, I have been thinking about spirituality in education. I am prepared for the cultural shock of living in another country. And, while I will miss my family, I am not stressed out about leaving for 16 months," he said.
"The first month is spent getting acclimated. I and two other guys will be asked what we want to teach and we will be evaluated and then assigned to a teaching position. It will be a different life. The electricity is on and off. The wi-fi won't be available everywhere I go. But it is a freeing experience where I will take a step back and get back to the nature of life. We all get caught up with our modern technology so it will be nice to take a step away from that and just work with people," Leo explained.
"I look at this as serving others and and also an eye opening experience. I won't be living in the suburban United States. It will also give me an opportunity to think a lot about what I want to do when I return. I would like to teach in the future. I guess it runs in the family," Leo declared.