THE BREAKFAST CLUB; Students Start the Day with a Nutritious Meal and Positive Role Models

Article excerpt

Byline: BRIDGET MURPHY

If there was a minor miracle for which to pray at 7:30 a.m. Wednesday, it would have been to transform something into a never-ending supply of orange juice.

Breakfast Club volunteer Jim Selzer joked that, no matter how much of it he poured into miniature plastic cups, there would always be more tiny hands reaching for those cups at Holy Rosary Catholic School.

"We're out of juice," Selzer told a chubby cherub who peered over the parish hall's kitchen counter. "You've got to get here early, big guy."

That's one of the commandments by which Breakfast Club volunteers operate while cooking and serving free breakfast to dozens of hungry, uniformed students who start lining up at 6:30 a.m. weekdays.

The early birds get the juice.

But school officials believe it may not be the food that is the most significant part of what the elementary school students get from the early morning interaction. The children also mix with educated adults who polish their manners and pump up their self-esteem with simple things like a smile.

School officials said only about 10 percent of the students who attend Holy Rosary on Brentwood Avenue and its sister school, St. Pius V Catholic School on West 13th Street, are Catholic by faith.

The students come from minority, mostly single-parent households in Jacksonville's urban core. The schools educate children from the pre-kindergarten level, starting at age 3, through eighth grade. About 80 percent of the approximately 400 students get assistance for the tuition of about $3,000, including scholarship help from a fundraising foundation focused on giving those inner-city children a better opportunity for a premier education.

SEEKING HELP FOR ALL TASKS

Now that foundation, known as the Guardian Catholic Schools Foundation, is recruiting new school volunteers. They're calling on the larger Jacksonville community to help these students achieve by socializing with positive role models.

"It's kind of like a lifetime gift even though it feels small. You can do a lot in an hour a week," said Sister Dianne Rumschlag, Holy Rosary's principal.

Sister Elise Kennedy, principal at St. Pius, said her school has struggled to attract volunteers because the workforce is so busy inside the classrooms and students' parents are working.

The schools need to fill slots in established roles such as their Breakfast Club and after-school tutoring programs. They need assistants to work in the school offices, libraries, lunchrooms and art clubs. They need field trip chaperones and grounds beautification workers.

The list of volunteer opportunities is as long as it is unconventional. The schools also will tailor volunteer work to the skill sets people can offer, such as music or foreign language instruction.

"This is not your mother's PTA. Apologies to the '50s and '60s," said foundation board member Donna Terry, a seasoned business executive who's organizing the recruitment effort.

The two schools would have closed about 13 years ago had members of the community not stepped in with financial support, Terry said. Fundraising also helped expand the facilities at each school, including a building addition at St. Pius that opened last month and another that opened at Holy Rosary last year. Terry said the volunteer recruitment effort is the next step. …