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Service is the Heart of Sion

Notre Dame de Sion Students Feel Empowered to create Personal Community Service Projects

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Article by Bethany Drobeck

Photography by Janie Jones

Originally published in Johnson County Lifestyle

In today’s fast-paced and often self-centered culture, how do you prepare teenage girls to be passionate about helping others? Teach them to listen.

According to Ellen Carmody, assistant principal for curriculum and instruction at Notre Dame de Sion High School, a college preparatory school in Kansas City, this commitment to listening is key. 

Carmody says, “At Sion we really work hard for our girls to be good listeners. What is it that helps these young women find their passion and go out? They listen to problems that are out there. They’re solution-focused, not problem- focused.”

The freedom to pursue their passions has led many Sion students to create service projects. Brooke McKee, senior, says she felt the support of the Sion community when she started a fashion club focusing on upcycling clothes and the downfalls of fast fashion.

Junior Tehya Frederick, who is passionate about serving the Native American community, says, “Sion and service are like peanut butter and jelly, they go hand and hand. Sion makes you want to help others by helping you recognize your passion and the change you want to see in the world.” 

Each Sion student completes 100 hours of community service by graduation in addition to a senior capstone service-oriented project. Carmody says the coursework at Sion prepares students to take risks and pursue projects that are close to heart.

“Students find a project that they are passionate about, they design it, they plan it, they implement it, they reflect on it, and they share that back out. The underground current is that many other courses are helping to prepare them to take those jumps on their own. I think they’re good at taking risks,” Carmody says. 

Feeling empowered by the Sion community, senior Colleen Byrne started a nonprofit called The Byrne Out Cancer Foundation, which provides fire stations with special washing machine extractors to remove carcinogens from firefighters’ gear. Her work was inspired after her dad passed away from occupational cancer. 

Classmate Katherine Vankeirsbilck, sophomore, started Lemon Club, a club that supports Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation, a foundation that helps fund childhood cancer research.

Last year, in conjunction with the International Day of the Girl on Oct. 11, juniors Aly Heefner and Rajitha Velakaturi started Project Period. After learning about worldwide menstrual inequity in class and seeing for themselves the lack of feminine hygiene items for women in poverty through volunteering at Micah Ministry, they started researching, found a faculty member to advise them and then led Project Period at Sion. Through fundraising and collections involving the entire school, the girls were able to donate more than 5,000 feminine hygiene products to Micah Ministry last year for distribution to homeless women in the Kansas City area.

Heefner says, “That experience made me realize how fortunate I am to have the luxury of tampons, and I wanted to make sure that everyone can get that luxury too. Project Period is a foundation that is aimed at helping underprivileged women get the feminine products they need.”

Velakaturi credits the environment at Sion for fueling her passion for service. She says, “I have felt empowered because there are always teachers and mentors ready to jump in and help students with any problems. Sion also fosters an environment where serving a community is highly regarded. I have been encouraged to follow all my ideas and passions for service and through service.”

These students are working hard to embody the Sion mission: “Empower Minds. Transform Hearts. Impact Others.”

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