A community service project resulted in a win-win for the eighth-grade class in St. Paul School, Burlington.

While the students knew they would be doing something concrete to help people in need, the project also helped the students with something they needed – to form stronger bonds with one another.

“This was a revelation project,” said the school’s principal, Maria M. Spirito.

The idea to have the eighth graders volunteer at a local social service agency was sparked by Spirito after observing the need for more positive interaction on the part of the students.

The students were very much divided in which they only talked to and sat with their little individual groups,” she said.

After numerous talks with the students and phone calls home to parents, Spirito was motivated to contact two local outreach agencies thinking that by having the students involved in outreach service to those in need might bring them closer to one another.

“I hoped they would learn that working together with students they don’t usually talk to can be very rewarding,” she said. “Maybe they would find that they have more in common with these classmates than they thought and would be less divided in the classroom and the lunchroom,” Spirito said.  It was also her hope that the students “would realize just how fortunate they are and see first-hand what individuals who are less fortunate go through and empathize with them.”

On Nov. 8, Spirito arranged for the class to make their first visit to The Sisterhood of Burlington, a non-profit organization that assists people who are experiencing homelessness or who lack the most basic of needs. For four hours the students worked in teams of two or three, sorting and displaying clothing items and books, distributing food and toiletries and assisting people seeking help.

Based on the students’ responses that ranged from “It was amazing,” “Can we do this again?” “I think the Sisterhood is doing a great justice for the poor,” Spirito and Father Jerome Guld, pastor of St. Katharine Drexel Parish, Burlington, regarded the outreach approach a success.

“The students felt fulfillment and a sense of accomplishment,” Spirito said.

“Most of our students live within minutes of The Sisterhood’s downtown help center, yet many of them were remarking that they didn’t know it existed or people were in need of that kind of help,” Father Guld added.

Sharing that he witnessed two students helping a young child find her family after the child became separated from them in the store, Father Guld said, “This was exactly the exposure to Christian mission we were hoping for.”

The point of the service project was not lost on the students.

“A mix of fun, eye opening and hard [work]” was how Brianna Albano described her time at The Sisterhood.

“I enjoyed how my class had an opportunity to come together and work as a team,” Brianna said.

“It was eye opening to see how many people were in need of help and our care during our short visit,” she said, then added, “I think we worked great as a class. I would love to have more opportunities like this in the future. I find it enjoyable to be Christian-like and help those in need.”

Similarly, Christopher Okoye said he enjoyed the “commitment and contribution” of his classmates working together.

“Everybody was participating and playing their part,” he said, adding that he felt both gratitude and honor “that our class got to be introduced to an activity like this.”

Okoye said he believes the service that he and his classmates participated in “made a huge impact” and that his affection for both his classmates and “anybody who walked through the door” increased.

“It was a blessing being given this opportunity,” Okoye said. Volunteering at The Sisterhood “really made our class unite.”