Service day at St. Cecilia opens doors to new relationships within Hispanic community

Cathy Drury hadn't been back to her old stomping grounds at St. Cecilia since she got married in 1990.

So when she saw an item in her workplace's newsletter about a service day at the south St. Louis school, she knew she had to attend.

"This brought tears to my eyes," said Drury, a strategy consultant for Wells Fargo and now a St. John the Baptist parishioner. "The neighborhood has changed and the parish has been transformed ... but (the school) was the same. Hopefully this day will help create more memories for the kids here now."

Drury and other Wells Fargo employees were among nearly 90 people from 10 corporations who participated in the day of service July 24. Volunteers cleaned the school and painted the gymnasium, hallways and some of the bathrooms. Wells Fargo employees also presented the school a $10,000 grant, which is slated for technology improvements.

Most of the volunteers were members of their companies' affinity groups -- otherwise known as special interest groups -- for Hispanics and Latinos. In addition to Wells Fargo, Boeing, Nestle Purina Pet Care Company, Monsanto, Edward Jones, Express Scripts, Pfizer, AT&T, Bunge and Citicorp also sent volunteers. These groups call themselves the Latino Alliance Network; this was their first service project.

The network contacted the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan St. Louis to learn more about the needs of the community; the Hispanic Chamber in turn helped make the connection with St. Cecilia. Guillermo Sarmiento, who works in information technology at Wells Fargo and co-chairs the company's Latino/Hispanic group, was only familiar with the parish's famous fish fries; the service day gave him a better perspective of the education children receive at the school.

"They help kids in the Hispanic community, but also follow them throughout (their education)," Sarmiento said. "Some of them come back to volunteer, from what I have been told. That speaks to the level of education they are getting."

The archdiocesan elementary school has 184 students in kindergarten through eighth grade; 75 percent of the student body is Hispanic, and about 95 percent qualify for free or reduced-price school lunches.

The school's academy for sixth, seventh and eighth grades includes an extended day and year, graduate support and enrichment programs, and follows students through high school. The high school graduation rate is about 90 percent.

Principal Joe Kilmade described the service day as an opportunity to build lasting connections with members of the business community.

"My hope would be that people will feel motivated and inspired to stay connected to our community knowing what they have done for us," he said.

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