High school students blossom as TASK volunteers

Lisa Johnston | lisajohnston@archstl.org
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Anna Schuermann sat patiently on the floor with her legs folded while her little buddy Xander Wurman stood behind her combing through her hair with his fingers.

Turning to the youngster with her ever-present smile, Schuermann said, "Thank you. Good job. Are you braiding it?"

Schuermann was at her regular weekly volunteer position with Team Activities for Special Kids (TASK), a nonprofit organization dedicated to enriching the lives of children with special needs by providing them with athletic and social opportunities. Schuermann, a Nerinx Hall senior, and another TASK volunteer, Allison Bettlach from Bishop DuBourg High School, are among 25 students from Catholic high schools in the archdiocese recognized recently with the 2018 Archbishop May Service Award.

"I really like working with kids with disabilities, interacting with them and giving them a way to have social aspects that they may not always get," Schuermann said. "It brings me joy and them joy to have a friend every day that they get to see and hang out with."

A member of Christ the King Parish in University City, Schuermann said her faith life is connected with her service. "That's how I experience God in my life and see Him working in the world," she said.

It's simply something she wants to do, and it doesn't feel like work to her.

At TASK, she said, the children "have so much fun being around you that doing the activity" is just a bonus.

Schuermann also volunteered at Camp Independence (Children's Hospital) during the summer. She befriended and assisted a boy in a power wheelchair who devised a game throwing a ball. Schuermann always lost. "It was so fun. He was like, 'Let's keep playing,' and then when I went back the next week he wanted to keep talking to me and playing different games."

At Nerinx, Schuermann is president of the Outreach service club and helps plan and lead its assembly, coat drive and adopt-a-family drive for St. Francis Community Services. She also connects other students to volunteer efforts.

Schuermann, who plans to attend Marquette University to study physical therapy, also is involved in the cooking club and is a manager of the basketball team.

Nerinx is a supportive and inclusive community, she said. "Every day when I come to school I know somebody's going to ask how I am doing. It's really a feeling of home," Schuermann said.

Beth Buchek, service learning director at Nerinx, wrote in a letter nominating Schuermann that she goes "above and beyond in service and makes a positive impact on our world."

'Service in mind and action'

Bettlach, a Bishop DuBourg senior, went with a friend in eighth grade, Sophie Staue, to volunteer at a TASK camp at Christian Brothers College High School. She was nervous and excited about hosting the program for the children with a wide range of disabilities. Bettlach quickly found joy in the work and returned to TASK camps every year as a volunteer.

"We have theater, science, dance and art classes with lunch in between," she said. "The kids love it. Their faces light up as soon as they run in the door. It's their favorite time of the year, they get so excited. By Friday, we're tired and run down, but they still run in the door at 7 a.m. It's awesome."

Juan Jose Barzallo of DuBourg's campus ministry wrote in nominating Bettlach that she "has always strived to be both a great student and a great community member." He pointed out that she has a 4.14 grade point average in the DuBourg Academy of Advanced Studies and made honor roll every semester.

Since her freshman year, Barzallo stated, "she has made sure to lead her life here with service in mind, and most definitely in her actions."

In addition to TASK, Bettlach is a leader in her school's Pro-Life Club and went to Washington, D.C., on the March for Life, volunteered with elderly neighbors at DuBourg House, organized blood drives, served as a peer mentor, helped rebuild homes in New Orleans and more.

At DuBourg, Bettlach said, "everyone fits right in. There are people from all kinds of backgrounds and environments and schools."

Bettlach, who will attend Loyola University in Chicago in the fall, also has a passion for social justice. At a workshop for students representing schools in the Archdiocesan Athletic Association on "Why We Play," Bettlach took a message from a speaker about racial stereotyping, awareness and sensitivity back to DuBourg and petitioned the leadership to be more welcoming to diversity. The school responded with a number of initiatives.

The May Award is especially meaningful because it included a service day and program for the honorees at various sites in St. Louis, Bettlach said. "It really showed me a lot about St. Louis and motivated me to get more involved," she said.

Her faith plays a big part, she said: "It's so easy to see God in the people you serve. All the kids at TASK are so pure and happy, so loving and amazing. You get a great feeling from serving other people." 

Archbishop May Award

The 2018 Archbishop May Service Award presentation April 19 marked the 25th anniversary of the program sponsored by the archdiocesan Catholic Education Office. The award winners and their high schools are:

• Allison Bettlach, Bishop DuBourg

• Quavon Windham, Cardinal Ritter College Prep

• Brian Emmet Askren, Chaminade College Preparatory School

• Connor White, Christian Brothers College High School

• Meghan Fox, Cor Jesu Academy

• Zander Haddad, De Smet Jesuit

• Kenzie Krieger, Duchesne High School

• Megan Pilla, Incarnate Word Academy

• Anna Schuermann, Nerinx Hall

• Maya Gravagna, Notre Dame

• Claire Himstedt, Rosati-Kain

• Rosa Mazzuca, St. Dominic

• Emily Reuwer, St. Francis Borgia

• Anthony B. Klutho Jr., St. John Vianney

• Mallory Holzer, St. Joseph's Academy

• Austin Hillebrandt, St. Louis Priory School

• Jacob Hennes, St. Louis University High School

• Thomas Hoerner, St. Mary's

• Aubrie Harris, St. Pius X

• Alyssa Violet Dammann, St. Vincent

• Jayla Glover, Trinity Catholic

• Kathryn Antonacci, Ursuline Academy

• Riley Wolk, Valle Catholic

• Lauren Fox, Villa Duchesne and Oak Hill School

• Allison Potter, Visitation Academy 


Paul Kraus, volunteer coordinator for Team Activities for Special Kids, said many of the volunteers come from Catholic high schools in the archdiocese. It's especially endearing to the students because it's a one-on-one, relational experience, he said.

TASK enriches the lives of children with special needs by providing opportunities for them to participate in sports, recreational and social activities. It is run by a small staff and volunteers, based at facilities in Fenton with a modern gym and ballfields.

For information, visit www.tasksports.org. 

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