This story is written by Mrs. Joanne Horne, who received the University of Notre Dame Sorin Award for Service to Catholic Schools during our National Bus Tour's visit in Denver. She is the grandmother of Meghan Hanzlik (ACE 13) and Gillian Hanzlik (ACE 18).
The idea of the Ambassadors of Hope Program was sparked twelve years ago as I sat at a Seeds of Hope luncheon. Seeds of Hope is a charitable organization that funds over 1,000 disadvantaged children a year to attend a Catholic school in the Archdiocese of Denver, Colorado.
As a proud grandmother of two ACE graduates, I have watched as the men and women of Seeds of Hope work tirelessly to raise money for this cause, and I thought there had to be something people of my age (50-80) could do. What we have is time to donate. With the help of the director of Seeds of Hope at that time, and our own St. Thomas More Parish, the idea of volunteering in these Catholic schools had its beginnings.
Twelve ladies from St. Thomas More visited St. Rose of Lima and St. Francis de Sales schools. We decided in one afternoon to send six of our group to St. Rose of Lima and six to St. Francis de Sales the following week as volunteers. Ambassadors of Hope was born!
Today, we have approximately 100 volunteers in seven of our area’s twelve inner-city and underprivileged schools!
We started with the idea that we would do anything the schools needed, and we have not wavered from this commitment. Today we are librarians, teachers’ aides, math and reading tutors, office helpers, and anything else these schools need that we can provide! Jeanne Courchene, who was principal at St. Rose of Lima when the Ambassadors began, says, “The Ambassadors of Hope are loving and caring and willing to do whatever is needed. They gave extra help to struggling students, graded papers, read to students, and in general became "Grandmas" in the classrooms. The children loved the volunteers and were loved in return. It's hard to say who benefited the most–the students or the volunteers. The program was a smashing success, and it didn't stop with classroom aides. These savvy volunteers saw other needs in each school and stepped up to solve them. St. Rose of Lima's beautiful library is the direct result of this program.”
We are there to serve and in “no way to be served.” We have gained much! Of the original twelve volunteers, ten are still volunteering, while the other two have stopped only due to health constraints. As Lee Murphy, one of the original twelve volunteers said, “I understand that the schools feel we are helping them, but no one can express how much these children, teachers and principals have done for us. It is a wonderful feeling to know in our later years we still have something to give, which is our time and love to these dear children.”
Ambassadors of Hope costs nothing to join, for either the volunteers or the schools. It is a win-win proposition! We love the children and they love us, and we feel like we are doing something worthwhile in our later years for future generations. The only requirements needed are the love of the mission of Catholic schools and time. We are inspired and feel called to serve by the Gospel of Matthew 19:14: “Let the children come to me, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.”
Seeds of Hope has estimated that our Ambassadors have provided over $250,000 of volunteer hours to these schools annually. What these schools have provided to us in return is priceless! Find some volunteers, contact your local Catholic school, and Ambassadors of Hope can be serving your schools too!
Gillian Hanzlik (ACE 18) is currently a kindergarten teacher at St. Rose of Lima Catholic Academy in Denver. “The ambassadors are the perfect expression of St. Therese's 'small things with great love,'" she commented. "These volunteers are here to do anything we need, with the greatest love in their hearts for our children. Each ambassador is a blessing to our school.”
Photo: Educators Gillian Hanzlik (ACE 18) and Meghan Hanzlik (ACE 13) are granddaughters of Joanne Horne, our University of Notre Dame Sorin Award for Service to Catholic Schools winner. Horne is seen holding the award, in front of Father Lou DelFra, director for spiritual life in ACE.