By Rich Fisher | Contributing Editor
Hope is a wonderful thing, and the athletes of St. John Vianney High School are offering a lot of it for the future.
For the second straight year, the volunteer work done by SJV’s Catholic Athletes for Christ earned the Holmdel Lancers an invitation to march in the Day of Hope Community Walk, sponsored by the JBJ (Jon Bon Jovi) Soul Foundation, the JBJ Soul Kitchen and Collier Youth Services.
The walk recognizes members of the community who offer support and hope to fellow residents, and on Sep. 20 in Red Bank, the participants began at the JBJ Soul Kitchen on Monmouth Street, walked down Bridge Avenue to Leonard, to Shrewsbury and back down Monmouth Street.
“The theme is recognizing members of the community who offer support and hope,” SJV assistant athletic director Pat Smith said. “St. John Vianney’s Catholic Athletes for Christ was recognized as an organization that does those things. Our student athletes have racked up thousands of hours of community service over the past school year.”
Much of that community involvement is thanks to the leadership of Smith, who is also SJV’s director of Christian service and the school’s Catholic Athletes for Christ coordinator.
“It’s cool how the three responsibilities all come together here,” he said.
It’s equally cool how well the athletes have responded. The football team was chosen to represent SJV’s athletes in the walk last year, as it was in the midst of a 38-game winning streak against Shore Conference competition.
“I can’t bring every team, so I brought the football team to represent all our student-athletes,” Smith said. “We brought them back this year because they were like, ‘Coach, coach, we’re going back to soup kitchen right?’ I wasn’t gonna say no.”
Senior offensive lineman C.J. Hanson, who has given a verbal commitment to play for Rutgers next year, said the fact that SJV gets invited to the walk becomes a great source of pride.
“We’re walking down the street with our uniforms on, people are looking at us saying, ‘Hey it’s St. John Vianney – look what they do.’ … People can see what we’re doing and that we’re not a Catholic school just to be a Catholic school – we’re a Catholic school to follow God’s footsteps. We live by God.”
Smith is quick to point out that although the football team participates in the walk, “I can say with certainty that every single one of our athletic teams at St. John Vianney in some form or fashion has been out in the community giving back, whether it’s as an individual or a captain, and in some instances it’s the entire program.”
There are countless ways in which they contribute, with the majority of service being at the New Jersey Veterans Memorial Home in Edison. Twice a month, a selected athletic team spends the entire day with elderly and disabled veterans, playing bingo, bowling or running the exercise club. They also transport residents to and from different events.
“We’re just living the Gospels – ‘When I was sick you visited me,’” Smith said. We do that on a regular basis. Teams beat my door down – ‘Can we go next? Can we go next?’”
The athletes also feed the homeless in Monmouth County, as once a month they visit the Feeding All God’s Children Soup Kitchen in Freehold. Another popular activity is partnering with Clean Ocean Action, where the students do beach sweeps at Sandy Hook and clean up garbage while also collecting data on the type of trash and how much is found.
It is a labor of love for Hanson, a member of St. Monica Parish, Jackson, who has been volunteering in the community in various ways since the sixth grade.
“It’s awesome being able to be in a school community like this, having them follow along with you and have the same mindset,” Hanson said. “We all have the same will to give back to the community, and it’s great knowing you’re not the lone guy on campus doing it – you have the whole school behind you.”