Viator House Participants Inspire Local Teens

“It’s Really Cool” – Viator House Participants Inspire Local Teens With Whom They Serve

Before the pandemic, VHH Participants often partnered with St. Viator High School students at Feed My Starving Children food-packing sessions

Like a pinball in a vintage pinball machine, interaction between Viator House participants and their peers volunteering from St. Viator High School keeps everyone continually learning from one another, racking up gains for all involved as they serve together.

Whether helping to lead interfaith discussions or packing food for hungry children around the world, the activities represent opportunities for participants and local high school students to share life experiences and affirm each other’s hunger to serve.

Last Winter’s food-packing duties, for example, started with pizza in the St. Viator High School dining hall, where students and Viator House participants would sit together to get to know each other and eat pizza.  Usually the 8-10 Viator House participants outnumbered the  St. Viator student volunteers, said Kyle Wallisch, a St. Viator junior who volunteered. The lateness of the packing session, which ended at 9:30 p.m., was not favorable for a lot of high-schoolers’ schedules, but the time helped attract Viator House participants – because by that time in the evening, most were home from school or work.

The pre-session pizza party was a time for get-to-know-you questions, said Jason Wilhite, St. Viator campus minister, who helped organize the service evening.  Generally speaking, the high-schoolers don’t come into close contact with people from different countries and cultures, especially those seeking asylum, and Viator House participants have been good about getting to know St. Viator students, he said.

Conversely, Viator House participants “don’t get to see a lot of people (close to their age),” Kyle said. “I’m grateful for the opportunity, being part of this, getting to know guys that went through struggles… It’s really cool to see guys who have been in (tough situations) before and want to give back.”

Eye-opening is a word often used to describe the interaction. For John O’Neill, a St. Viator senior and a leader in Peace Camp, a two-day local event that brings together middle school Muslims, Jews and Christians to teach each other about their faith traditions, his fellow camp leaders from Viator House offered “a whole new outlook” that made even more of an impact on the middle students and on him personally.

“From the middle-schoolers’ perspective, I think they were just so touched by the Viator House guys” and their experience growing up, he said. “The stories that they were comfortable enough saying really opened people’s eyes” to how different life was in their home countries. Likewise the representatives from Viator House were able to better internalize the transition in their mind from an existence that knew nothing but Islam to a Christianity-heavy environment that envelopes them in this country, while getting U.S. students “out of a Christian bubble,” said John. “The whole experience, for them and for us, is moving. We don’t see that every day.”