Two summers ago Betty Panza felt pressed to do something more to teach the students at her school what it means to serve God and serve the community.
“That was bubbling in my heart all summer, what else can we do,” says Panza, a Grade 2 teacher at John Knox Christian School (JKCS) in Oakville.
She admits to feeling like it could be an overwhelming task but that September decided to take the plunge and make an announcement saying that she wanted to serve the community, she didn’t know what would happen, but if people were interested, they could come out.
“I was really hoping for five, maybe 10 kids to show up, and the goal was to create a buzz,” Panza tells OACS News.
Thirty-five students from Grades 6, 7 and 8 came the first day to learn more.
“I had goose bumps,” says Panza. “All summer, it was so on my heart, and then to see this, it was like, ‘Wow, God knew.’”
Since that time, the group of students, which was grown to a current 55, has an opportunity to participate in some community service activity each month.
Calling themselves the Servant Team, they have served meals restaurant-style at a food bank — a new experience for the visitors, some of whom responded with significant emotion.
They’ve raked leaves for families living with a loved one who has a cancer diagnosis, and had some amazing experiences there as well, says Panza, recounting how last year family members would come out as the students were raking and ask why they were doing this and how come they were so joyful.
This year when she called to tell a family they were coming to clean up their yard as way to show they care, the family member broke down crying.
“I relay that back to the kids,” she says. “I tell them, we are so touching these people’s hearts.”
Panza keeps her ear to the ground for opportunities to serve and then organizes the monthly activities, admitting it can be difficult and time-consuming sometimes but that’s par for the course for her.
“As an organizer, it’s a lot of work, but … I’m so passionate about it, I’m fine with that.”
Parents are encouraged to get involved and model serving as a Christian adult, says Panza, noting it’s exciting to see how many do.
The teacher adds her vision is to see students grow hearts committed to service throughout all aspects their lives.
“We really talk about having servant hearts, not just on our events, but that God will give us servant hearts for people and for our community and for God’s kingdom. It’s something I talk about all the time, so that it becomes their heart and heart for life.”
Today, serving has become a central underlying theme at the school, Panza notes, pointing out there are differences in the students, an excitement and enthusiasm about it. Alumni have also asked to return and participate in service events.
She also hears from parents about the significant impact it’s making on them and their families, even at home.
“To me, this is life impacting,” she says, noting her vision is to see students who even 20 years down the road are still excited about serving God and others.
“That’s my prayer, that’s my heart.”
Panza is willing to share her experiences and insights with other schools interested to learn more. She can be contacted at JKCS at 905-829-8048.