-By Kristen Kendall and Tara Bitterly
Halfway around the world, children in Cambodia leave the slum they call home and set out on their morning walk to school. The roads they travel along are unpaved. The school they arrive at is nothing more than four concrete walls, lacking electricity and basic supplies. But by attending school, they are offered the opportunity to receive an education along with the incentive of a substantial meal each day.
In another world, the students at Red Bank Catholic (RBC), the Caseys*, prepare for another school day. They will be driven to school and will enter a building with the latest technologies and all the other resources they could ever need in order to succeed.
An ocean 8,832 miles and an eleven hour time difference separate New Jersey from Cambodia; however, today these drastically different worlds will merge. As the students of RBC remember one of their own, students in Cambodia receive a gift beyond monetary value. This gift will honor the memory of a beloved RBC graduate.
Friday, October 1, 2010, marked the twenty-first birthday of Julia DeFelice, a member of the class of 2007, who passed away unexpectedly this past July. From a very young age, she devoted a great deal of her time to soccer—practicing, competing, and demonstrating true passion for the game. Upon graduating from RBC, Julia attended Wesley College, where she would have been a senior this fall. Her passion for soccer grew as she continued to play the sport she loved at the collegiate level. Julia was dedicated and naturally displayed the qualities of a true leader. She aspired to incorporate her passion for soccer with her desire to work with those less fortunate than herself, and she actively shared her love of the game by working with handicapped children at Doorbrook Park in Colts Neck.
To commemorate Julia on her birthday, her sister Olivia (a junior at RBC) along with her family, sought a way to celebrate Julia's life and to carry out her passion and her dream. The Maryknoll Mission Club held an ice cream sale during students' lunch periods on September 30. This fundraiser was coined "Julia's Joy." It was agreed that half of the money raised that day would go directly to students in Cambodia to enable them to purchase brand new athletic equipment in memory of Julia DeFelice.
The idea of holding an ice cream sale is nothing new to the students of RBC. Typically ice cream sales generate approximately $700. "Julia's Joy" raised over $1200 within a three hour time span, as over 600 ice cream sundaes were consumed. The Maryknoll students were unprepared for such an outreach of support, and by the end of the seventh period, they had run out of ice cream. Volunteers had to inform the many students still waiting on line that they were out of supplies. Without hesitation, the hungry teenage boys facing disappointment demonstrated extreme grace as they offered up their cash as a donation to the cause. These small acts of kindness proved that the cause was more important to the students than anything that they could have received in return. With a mere wire transaction, the money made the 8,832 mile journey to Sister Mary Little MM, RBC's Maryknoll connection in Cambodia.
Five years ago, Ms. Logan contacted Sr. Mary, who works with Cambodian children. Many of these children live in terrible poverty, some have lost a parent to AIDS, and a few are even AIDS orphans. RBC sprang into action by using the proceeds from various fundraisers to support literacy programs, fund girls' education, and help to cover the cost of uniforms, school supplies, and lunches for many children. An ongoing relationship was established between Sister Mary's school and RBC.
While educating and feeding them is extremely important, these children are still children, so the Maryknoll students wanted to offer them the opportunity to enjoy the spirit of childhood. Within hours of the final cash tally, Sister Mary took her Cambodian students shopping on Julia's birthday. Children who have known nothing but barefoot pickup games and a dirt field received nice, new, black uniforms. Soccer shoes were purchased so that for the first time ever they had something to wear on their feet while playing. The money also covered the cost of three new soccer balls, a referee for an official game the following Sunday, and a van used to transport the children to their first proper game. Imagine what new uniforms, new shoes, and the opportunity to play and official soccer game must have done for these children. Much to Sister Mary's surprise, they won their first real game by a score of 5-2.
In December, this tiny school will hold a school wide sports day in memory of this special Casey. Although her time on Earth was tragically cut short, her passion and dreams will continue. For Julia DeFelice and the Maryknoll effort, the entire RBC community pulled together, and lives were positively impacted in an unfathomable way. For once in their lives, these Cambodian children were not just AIDS orphans. This is a gift larger than Maryknoll, Ms. Logan, and RBC. It's even larger than Julia DeFelice's love of life and Olivia DeFelice's love for her sister. Perhaps this is an example of God's work on Earth, through Julia.
"For this reason, I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family, both in Heaven and on Earth, derives our name. Glory be to God, whose power which is at work within us can do infinitely more than we could ever ask or imagine."