From helping our youth to serving our senior citizens, a group of students at Holy Cross Lutheran Academy are following the lead of one stellar community champion
When Sanford resident CaSandra Williams set out to recruit volunteers for Hamilton Elementary School’s mentoring program, she found a perfect match with Holy Cross Lutheran Academy. Holy Cross wanted to pair its Upper School students with a worthwhile service project, so CaSandra’s timing couldn’t have been better.
“Teaching servanthood to students appealed to me,” says CaSandra, who was serving as an Americorps VISTA leader at the time. “Our goals matched up so well, it was a great partnership.”
The Reading Buddies program was formed, and for one hour each week, a group of Holy Cross students spent time tutoring and helping second graders with their reading skills. Over the course of CaSandra’s time at Hamilton, as she worked closely with various community partners like Holy Cross, Hamilton’s rating rose from an F school to a strong C school.
Today, CaSandra is serving a new demographic. She’s now making waves as the senior citizens’ program coordinator at Midway Safe Harbor in Sanford, where she facilitates activities and finds creative ways to grow and develop the program. Even better, the same group of Holy Cross students who worked with CaSandra at Hamilton Elementary have followed her to Midway Safe Harbor.
“The principal at Holy Cross called me one day and asked what I was up to,” CaSandra recalls. “I said, I’m at Midway Safe Harbor, and he replied, ‘We want our students to be wherever you are!’”
Every morning during this year’s spring semester, the students spent an hour socializing, playing games, and leading craft activities with local seniors. At the end of the semester, they were in charge of putting on a Senior Fest.
“On our first day at Midway Safe Harbor, CaSandra remembered all the students’ names from when they were at Hamilton,” says Holy Cross Pastor Ethan Spira, who accompanied the students each week. “It was so positive, and everyone was glad to be back together. By working with seniors, our students got a better understanding of helping others in a different stage of life, a different generation that can share a lot of the same Christian values.”
“The students did such a great job,” says CaSandra. “For a lot of our senior citizens, this is their time to get out of the house and socialize. We all need it, no matter your age. It’s part of our life’s blood. The students had great discussions, and they had wonderful respect for the seniors. They worked sort of like bookends. The seniors had all the wisdom, and the youth were eager to learn from them.”
CaSandra’s call to a life of service began as a 911 operator turned police officer. She served for 16 years before turning the page to a new chapter of her life – missionary work – first as a resident missionary in Ghana, West Africa, followed by several years throughout The Bahamas. Prior to that, she helped open a community center in Orlando’s Pine Hills neighborhood to assist families in crisis.
“I used to think, ‘Why am I all over the place?’ but I learned not to be afraid of where my gifts and talents will take me,” says CaSandra. “This is my opportunity to share my gifts with the world. I go from place to place. I work with youth and seniors. I’m in the country and out of the country. It all seems to fit, and I enjoy it. I am right where I want to be. I ambitiously want to follow my purpose.”
CaSandra hopes to inspire others into action and encourage them to find time to serve.
“We can’t afford not to have time for service,” she says. “That’s how we lose our communities. Going to work, coming home, going to sleep – that’s a dangerous shuffle. There’s a better way to live if you make service a part of your life, to be a part of what’s good about life. How do you expect to have a better world if you don’t get engaged? The world doesn’t run itself – people run it.”
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