It all began with a trip to Mexico last summer. For Notre Dame High School senior Connor Sheagren, it was a truly eye-opening experience.
“I was stunned by the homelessness and the amount of suffering I observed and felt determined to do something in my own community to solve these problems,” he said. The poverty and suffering he saw affected him deeply.
The 17-year-old’s experience came about last summer through the “Youth in Mission” program sponsored by his ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church of America) church group. Only 25 students from across the country were selected for the trip. Applicants had to write a 1,000-word essay on “Serving Christ in the World” and submit letters of recommendation. Once Connor was chosen for the program, he found his life would never be the same.
Connor’s decision to take action led to his organizing “Hands and Feet,” a service club comprised of 15 high school students at Notre Dame with the goal of completing a service project at least once a month. Thus far the group has participated in the UNICEF project in October, which raised $467.30 that would go to needy parents and children in Third World countries.
In November, the students sponsored a door-to-door canned food drive and collected 405 items for St. Vincent de Paul’s food pantry in Burlington. Currently the group is working on “Toys for Tots,” along with local postal carriers, to collect toys for needy kids in the area.
The name of Connor’s club, “Hands and Feet,” is derived from the concept that “We are the hands and feet of God,” the idea that it is every person’s responsibility to help those less fortunate. Notre Dame’s school board officially sanctioned the group as part of the school’s extracurricular offerings, and Principal Ron Glasgow agreed to sponsor the students.
“Connor set himself apart when he organized his group, set objectives and a plan of action,” he said. “Then his group executed the plan. It is now a part of Notre Dame and I hope we can continue this group after Connor graduates.”
Connor is no stranger to service. He earned his Eagle Scout honors last March and has more than 575 hours of community service throughout his high school years at Notre Dame.
Connor, a Lutheran, is among the 12 percent of non-Catholic students who attend Notre Dame. He aspires to become a pastor in the Lutheran church, and being at ND has helped him along this path. “Attending Notre Dame has challenged me and opened my eyes to possibilities in my life. I could really feel the Holy Sprit working through me here, especially in religion class,” Connor said.
Connor has many other ideas for his group’s service projects in 2010. The students would like to paint murals over graffiti in the downtown areas of Burlington, organize clean-up efforts near the river and around the highways. He is also anxious to seek solutions for social problems, such as exploring preventative measures for teen suicides.
The Hands and Feet effort will not end with Connor’s graduation next May. Sophomore Hannah Ebbing is anxious to lead the program for the next two years and grow the group even more among the upcoming grades.
Connor lives by the philosophy of Mohandas Gandhi, who wrote, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” He adds, “Those who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world are the ones who do.”
No doubt Connor will be one of those “crazy” ones, and thank God for him.