GENEVA — The Saints went marching through Geneva recently. The DeSales High School Saints, that is.
Most of the students and many of the school’s staff took part in the First Annual DeSales Walk-A-Thon on Oct. 19, when they walked from the school on Pulteney Street to Lakefront Park on the shores of Seneca Lake near Routes 5 and 20. Once they reached the park, they enjoyed a chicken barbecue and games of soccer and flag football.
The walk was intended to raise awareness of the school in the community and to raise money for DeSales and for the Geneva Community Lunch Program, according to Charlie Evangelista, the school’s development and recruitment director.
“We were looking to do a couple different things,” explained Evangelista, the event’s organizer.
Evangelista and Martin Cox, the school’s principal, said they wanted to find an event that would be very visible in the community. They also wanted to find an event that would not only financially benefit the school, but also help students understand the importance of giving back to the community, Evangelista said.
“As a faith-centered school where students need to do community service and be thinking about how they’re helping out, this is a great way to do that,” Cox said.
“It’s important for our students to be visible in the community. I feel that DeSales needs to be forging partnerships with the community, and what better way to do that than by taking a walk as an entire student body?” he added.
The students were indeed visible in the community on the morning of the walkathon. Students wearing pale yellow walkathon T-shirts began spilling out the front doors of the school and gathering on the lawn at about 10:15 a.m., after school officials announced that pledged donations for the walkathon had totalled $5,509.
Once everyone had gathered outside the school the students and staff took to the streets, escorted by two patrol cars from the Geneva Police Department and led by members of the senior class, who carried a banner that read, “DeSales High School, 95 Years of Excellence.” Several drivers honked their horns as they waited for students and staff to walk by them at intersections, and others peered curiously through the doors and windows of local businesses as the DeSales group passed.
“What are you marching for?” one woman called out from the door of a hair salon as the students walked by.
“What’s it about? It’s about DeSales High School,” Evangelista called back.
“Go DeSales!” the woman responded.
“We want to really make a statement in the community that DeSales is alive and vibrant, and we’re looking forward to the future,” Evangelista told the Catholic Courier as he walked.
Sophomore Ben Maher, 15, said he thought the walkathon was a good way to publicize the school and let the community know what DeSales is about. He also liked the fact that the walkathon would benefit the Geneva Community Lunch Program, which each weekday provides free, hot lunches to Geneva’s needy population.
Ben became familiar with the Geneva Community Lunch Program two years ago, when he was an eighth-grader at St. Francis-St. Stephen School in Geneva. He and his classmates regularly volunteered with the lunch program as part of their religion curriculum. Every few weeks they would leave their school and spend two hours preparing and serving meals to the needy, and then cleaning up when everyone had been fed.
“Being able to witness that makes it matter that much more to me,” Ben said. “I got to witness what that is all about.”
Catrina Oswald, a religion and health teacher at DeSales, said she planned to start bringing her senior students to volunteer at the lunch program in a few weeks so they would be able to see what their pledges were used for.
“They’re excited about going there,” Oswald said.
Her students also were excited about the walkathon, she noted.
“It’s a very good school-spirit effort, and the kids get to all be together with the students and staff,” Oswald said.
Senior Kaili Collins, 17, said she was enjoying the opportunity to spend the warm autumn morning outside of school with her friends, and freshman Francesca Brand, 14, said it was nice to see her teachers taking part in the walkathon alongside their students.
“It’s nice to miss classes and stuff. We need a break once in a while. The walk was really fun, too,” sophomore Kathryn Casella, 16, said as she and Francesca relaxed on a park bench after arriving at Lakefront Park. Kathryn had never been involved with the lunch program before but learned about it while she was collecting pledges.
“I think since we all have to have 20 service hours, I’m probably going to try it,” she said.
Once everyone had arrived at the park, the students and staff split into smaller groups. Some relaxed by the water, while others gathered under the pavilion to talk, and still others started an impromptu flag football game. Caterers prepared the chicken barbecue while staff members mingled with students and coworkers and Cox watched the flag football game.
“The students feel that this is a family. This is great for school spirit,” he said.
“One of the advantages of the school being small is we can do things like this,” Evangelista added. “We’re hoping it’s going to be an annual thing, bigger and better each time.”