Zoom is site for Public Service Night during pandemic. (Courtesy photo)

Servons (to serve), is a motto to student life at Cate School, according to Will Homes, director of community engagement. Although volunteering for public service hours is not required, as at most public schools, Cate focuses on giving back as tradition and is available to students by choice.

Cate’s Public Service Night program, which has evolved since the 1980s, consists of five-to-seven high school students who volunteer weekly at a number of local organizations, and engage with agency participants in games and other enrichment activities.

One of the chosen organizations is UCP WORK, Inc.’s Manitou House, where the same five men have lived together for close to 40 years, some starting there as teenagers themselves. The Manitou residents and staff look forward to Game Nights, and as tradition, they wear Cate-logoed t-shirts while playing bingo and the game SORRY! in a non-competitive fashion.

“The public service experience is more about the ritual and getting to see familiar faces,” said Holmes. “Our students are super grounded and are in better spirits after they leave; plus they learn to take different perspectives.”

Despite the disturbance of COVID-19, Cate students continue to value the importance of consistency and volunteer weekly for Public Service Night through the use of Zoom. Played virtually, the games remain life-enriching opportunities for people with disabilities by providing online social engagement and a comfortable place to just have fun.

“The guys are more outgoing when the students come on the screen. They all perk up on game night,” said Joette Demeter, UCP WORK, Inc. life skills coach.

Cate senior Finnian Whelan has been a regular volunteer with the school’s Public Service Night since the start of her sophomore year and is one of five leaders of the program. She is responsible for recruiting other students and ensures the volunteers represent Cate School appropriately.

“I really enjoy this leadership position, because it allows me to teach other students that the best way to make a difference in the local community, is to give both effort and compassion,” Whelan said. “I get the privilege of doing little deeds, like making cookies and brownies for the men at Manitou, to spread a bit of joy.

“One hour of baking is not a sacrifice when I see the residents smile and wave when I drop off treats.”

Before the stay-at-home order, the Manitou residents would get excited to go to Cate’s campus for its end-of-the-year barbecue and holiday concert. Additionally, the students coordinated ongoing fundraisers to buy essential needs, some items as large as a kitchen table and bed.

Most importantly, the men would get to shop with the students, further supporting UCP WORK, Inc.’s goals towards independence, life-skills training, and community integration for adults with disabilities.

Other local organizations involved in the Cate School Public Service Night program are PATH, Transition House, Shepherd Place Apartments, and Cornerstone House. For more information about Cate School, visit https://www.cate.org.

Visit UCP WORK, Inc.’s Explore Our Programs page for more information about enrichment programs and quality services offered to people with disabilities living in the Tri-Counties area. See http://www.ucpworkinc.org.