This reflection from Ignatian Volunteer Kate Kniest was originally posted in IVC Chicago’s Footprints Blog.
On a routine day at Cristo Rey St. Martin College Prep, I learned a profound lesson from a colleague who is deeply concerned about students and their families, many are of whom are first or second generation immigrants.
A student needed special supplies while recovering from a health issue. Funds to purchase the products were available through the school. So, as the “nurse consultant” at the school, I accompanied my colleague to purchase supplies at a local discount store in the neighborhood, which has a reputation for gang activity.
At the store, we gathered what we needed and proceeded to the checkout line. Behind us was a tall and imposing man. He appeared unkempt and shabby. I felt intimidated by his size and unfriendly demeanor. I was glad to be accompanied by someone who knew the neighborhood and possessed an attitude of confidence.
Our purchases were tallied and the total came to $15.00 and some odd cents. My colleague had $15.00 in cash. Before I could get change from my purse, the man behind me said, “Take this.” and handed us the remaining exact change. I felt as though I should object, as he did not look as though he was in a position to spare any funds. However, my colleague graciously said, “Thank you. This is for a teenager who really needs these supplies.”
The tall, imposing, unkempt and shabby gentleman beamed and nodded his head. His face shone with the dignity of making a contribution. He no longer appeared intimidating. When we left the store I told my companion how I had been jolted by the remarkable change that came over the man when his help was so graciously accepted and acknowledged. My colleague’s simple response was that each person’s desire was to give something to improve another’s life.
This small incident has stayed with me and has made me consider the importance of not only giving, but of receiving gifts graciously. It proved that even the smallest act of giving is transformative.
In reflecting upon the event, I am reminded of the story of the widow in the Gospel of Luke who gave from her poverty and relinquished part of her livelihood. The joy of giving is apparent in my service experience at Cristo Rey St. Martin. The majority of the students eagerly respond to any request for help, whether it is a service project, food collection, or something for a specific family. They give freely, though they are not well off. Their families contribute what they can. No one makes large cash donations, but there are marvelous gifts of great charity from teenagers who simply have the desire to do something to improve the life of another individual. Witnessing such generosity reaffirms my belief that the Cristo Rey St. Martin students hold much promise for the future and that generosity can solve problems both large and small.
Kate Kniest graduated from St. Louis University with a BSN and from Loyola University, Chicago with a MSN. As a young nurse, she worked in pediatrics at Cardinal Glennon Hospital, St. Louis and Children’s Mercy Hospital, Kansas City. She taught pediatric nursing for 36 years. Three years ago, she retired as Professor of Nursing from Harper College in Palatine, IL. Her husband is a member of IVC. They have two grown children and four grandchildren.