On a sweltering summer day last week, hundreds of boys gathered on the track at Fordham Preparatory School in the Bronx for a unique type of race in which all of the 16 participating teams were winners—and not one of the boys had to run.
Instead, they were involved in “Operation Backpack” during which the 300 boys in the Fordham Preparatory School Higher Achievement Program (HAP) stuffed some 1,000 backpacks for local children in need.
“We follow all of the Jesuit values,” said Theresa Napoli, director of the HAP program for 11 years. “Those values are faith, scholarship and service.”
The boys were broken up into 16 teams given the nicknames of Jesuit College and University mascots, such as the Rams (Go Fordham!), the Blue Jays, the Cardinals and the Crusaders. The event took place July 29.
The backpacks were specifically made for children in prekindergarten and kindergarten who live in New York City domestic violence and homeless shelters. They were delivered to a representative of Operation Backpack July 30, the final day of the five-week summer program.
More than $12,000 was raised through student fund-raising initiatives. About $3,000 was donated to Operation Backpack and the rest went to buy the backpacks and supplies for the service project.
With a little sweat, some big smiles and eyes full of determination, the boys filled the colorful backpacks with notebooks, construction paper, markers, crayons, pencils and other supplies, all bought with money raised through the HAP program.
“The program shows that Catholic education is alive and well,” Ms. Napoli said. At the same time, students come from both Catholic and public schools and many religious backgrounds.
Ryan Figueroa, 12, of St. John Chrysostom School in the Bronx was one of the students on the Blue Jays. In a show of his faith, he wore blue Rosary beads around his neck, tucked into his T-shirt. Thanks to religious instruction at his school, his faith deepened. “This year, I realized how important God is,” he said. The fact that daily prayer and weekly Mass were offered through the HAP program this summer further enhanced his faith.
As they filled backpacks, Ryan told CNY, “I like helping others. When I’m doing it, I think about how happy they’ll be and how thankful we should be for what we have.”
The HAP program features academic classes, athletics and special programs including graphic design and music, for example. The athletics include football, rugby, a baseball clinic, and track and field.
The new principal of Fordham Preparatory School, Brian Carney, formerly assisted with running the track and field program.
Maclane Farrel, 13, from SS. John and Paul School in Larchmont, was one student who heard about the merits of HAP. “I thought it would be an academic challenge and fun, and I wanted to improve my sports skills,” he said.
The boys, all seventh-graders, come from across archdiocese, from the Bronx to North Salem, and even from other dioceses including Long Island and New Jersey, and other places as well, said Anthony Scotti, the program’s office manager.
Frank Tarul, 13, from St. Clare’s School in the Bronx, said he wants to attend Fordham Preparatory School and HAP gave him the chance to see what the Catholic high school is all about. “I’m enjoying myself here,” he said.
As for being involved in Operation Backpack, he said, “It feels really good to help others who aren’t as fortunate as we are. Now they can have the same experience we have in school because they have the proper supplies.”