Bishop Foley students find ways to ‘be the difference from a distance’ on day of service

Every year, students at Bishop Foley High School in Madison Heights participate in an annual service day called “Be the Difference” Day. Despite being quarantined at home, students and their families still found ways to give back this year, including writing letters to first-responders and nursing homes, painting rocks and making facemasks. (Photos courtesy of Bishop Foley Catholic High School)

Every year, Bishop Foley students go out into the community and volunteer their time; this year they got creative from home

MADISON HEIGHTS ⁠— The students at Bishop Foley Catholic High School found a way to “make a difference” in their community while still complying with quarantine laws in Michigan and social distancing standards. 

For the past 11 years, the school has hosted its annual “Be the Difference” Day ⁠— only this year, it was “Be the Difference (from a Distance)” Day.

Ashley Hursin, the school’s mission and ministry director, along with a student committee, came up with activities that the teachers, students, families and Bishop Foley alumni could safely perform at home with little or no cost. 

Typically, students go out into the community to volunteer their time and skills with organizations like the St. Vincent de Paul Society, Mary’s Mantle, animal shelters and nursing homes. 

Ashley Hursin, Bishop Foley’s mission and ministry director, enlisted the help of a student committee to come up with activities that the teachers, students, families and alumni could safely perform at home with little or no cost.

However, as the coronavirus progressed and quarantines shut down the state, Hursin realized the typical day of service — held this year on April 30 — would no longer be possible. 

“We still wanted to have an opportunity for our community to go out and make a difference, even if it just was in small acts of kindness,” Hursin said. 

This year, students were able to get creative at home while still helping the community and taking a break from online classes. 

Hursin and the student team suggested activities families could safely do from home, including writing letters to front-line workers and children in hospitals, painting rocks for breast cancer awareness, making face masks using Bishop Foley t-shirts and making sidewalk chalk drawings with inspiring messages.

“We encouraged our families to become creative,” Hursin said. “The two guidelines were that the acts of service have to be done at home and we are also encouraging them also to not go out and buy supplies.”

Alumni who are working as doctors, nurses and EMT were encouraged to submit photos of themselves making a difference on the front lines. 
For some members of the Bishop Foley community, the day’s activities were a family affair.

Throughout the day, the school shared photos and testimonies of those participating across its social media accounts. At times, Hursin said, the response was overwhelming. 

“It was really wonderful to see. It really helped all of our community to really recognize that giving back and acts of kindness can be done from home. A lot of things we kind of take for granted as niceties can actually make a huge impact in someone’s life,” Hursin said.

Anna Cavalier, a now-graduated senior at Bishop Foley, served as vice president of the “Be the Difference” Day committee after participating in the committee in some capacity during all four years of high school. 

Anna Cavalier, a now-graduated senior from Bishop Foley who served as vice president of the “Be the Difference” Day committee, “FaceTimes” some of the kids she babysits while reading them books.

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Cavalier and her fellow committee members helped Hursin pivot the original plans from in-person acts of service to at-home ones. 

Cavalier herself did almost all of the suggested activities, along with FaceTiming some of the kids she babysits and reading them books.

“Normally, a lot of students go back to their local elementary Catholic schools (on “Be the Difference” Day) and would spend the day reading books to the classes,” said Cavalier’s mother, Trindin. “Anna gave their parents a break. It is something she would have done if that were her assigned spot for the day. “

Cavalier also wrote letters to the incoming freshman at Bishop Foley, an activity that is personal as her own sister will be a freshman in the fall. 

“Service has always been a huge part of my life,” Anna Cavalier said, “including my whole family, back to my great-grandma, who is 96 and is still making quilts with the help of my grandma and great-aunt to donate them.”

Hursin said even though the students weren’t able to go out and volunteer their time and talents in person, the day was about doing small acts of kindness and sharing hope with the community.

Cavalier, a “Girl Scout since kindergarten,” said service is “just part of who I am.” 

“I have grown up with it and I just want to be a leader in every way that I can,” Cavalier said.

The annual service day has made a difference for the entire Cavalier family. One year, after volunteering at the Pope Francis Center in Detroit for “Be the Difference” Day, Trindin returned to the center with additional family members. As a result of the experience, one of her aunts began volunteering on a weekly basis. 

“It is a springboard of a day for kids to give back, but also to find out what could be a passion of theirs,” Trindin said.