Summer Immersion Experience Helps Form Servant Leaders

One of the defining components of the Marist School educational experience is service. In the spirit of the Society of Mary, students make a promise every year to serve their neighbors who have been impacted by poverty or other hardships. This is underscored by the Marist requirement that all students participate in service projects before graduation. Many students choose to fulfill their pledges and meet the minimum required service hours during the summer. From July 24-28, a group of select 9th and 10th grade students participated in a Servant Leadership Summer Immersion Experience led by theology teacher Mrs. Betsy Holcomb, introducing them to servant leadership through service opportunities and community building activities. Equal parts classroom learning and hands-on service, this experience invited students to explore service as an approach to leadership as modeled by Jesus in the Gospels.
On Monday, July 24, the students participating in Marist’s Servant Leadership Summer Immersion Experience traveled to the Elaine Clark Center (ECC) to serve at ECHO Summer Camp, which provides extended support and care for people between the ages of five and 22 years old with various special needs through fun and developmentally appropriate camp activities. “As our first experience of the week with service, the teachers and students at the Elaine Clark Center set the tone for the week,” said Mrs. Holcomb.
Lauren Greenhill ’26 reflected, “This camp led me to understand the struggles of others in our community on a deeper level. My fellow volunteers and I formed great friendships while serving our community and getting the chance to demonstrate our teamwork and leadership skills.”
Johanna Hames ’27 said that the ECC helped her understand the value of play in servant leadership through the play that she got to do with the children who had different physical or mental abilities. One child stood out to Johanna “because she found some toys that reminded her of hair styling tools, and she cut and styled my hair, and then asked me to cut and style her hair. Playing with her reminded me that play is something that we both enjoyed.” This experience exemplifies mutuality, a key aspect of servant leadership.
Engin McCarthy ’27 found creative ways to help everyone contribute to all the activities.  “I paid attention to the activities that the students enjoyed the most, and let that guide what we did with them,” said McCarthy. “We witnessed the employees at the Elaine Clark Center model this, and they worked well together.”
Through his experience at the ECC, Myles Maurer ’27 learned that working well with others is a key aspect of servant leadership. He says, “Being happy and having fun with the kids stretched us to do things that we may not have wanted to do. Playing the way they wanted to allowed all of us to have more fun.”  Myles learned that servant leadership required getting along with others, paying attention, and being open to what those being served wanted to do.
After returning to Marist’s campus from the ECC, Mrs. Holcomb invited the family of a girl who has developmental disabilities to come speak with students.  Katy and Ella Oubre shared their experiences helping Gracemary Oubre navigate a world that is not always equipped to support or welcome her. By learning more about the Oubres family, the students reflected that the children at the ECC also have families and stories deserving to be heard and shared.  
On Tuesday, July 25, the class partnered with L’Arche Atlanta to learn more about living in community. Greenhill was moved by hearing from L’Arche volunteer, Becca, who spoke to the class about her role in the nonprofit that serves people with and without intellectual disabilities. “She gave up living in her own house to live and work alongside people with disabilities, taking great care of her brothers and sisters in Christ,” Greenhill explained.
Tyler Baradel ’27 learned that L’Arche members practice servant leadership by thinking on their feet to better help everyone feel a sense of belonging. He was also inspired by Becca, who showed him how working with the core members—the term the L’Arche community gives to people with disabilities—caused her to think differently and pay close attention to their needs, thus learning more about their perspectives on the world.
Maurer found a trivia game with L’Arche members particularly eye-opening by noticing how much they value play. “The game welcomes people with all kinds of needs and gives each of them a chance to have fun and learn together,” he said. “This event used humor to bring the group together. One player named Ricardo often used jokes to lighten the mood. The game was more enjoyable because of the humor that delighted everyone.”
On Wednesday, July 26, the class began at the Atlanta Community Food Bank (ACFB) Stone Mountain warehouse. Students prepared food and materials so the people served by the organization could efficiently get the food they needed. When serving at the ACFB, Will McNary ’27 noted that the volunteers practiced building community by letting people who are food insecure choose the food that they want. “This builds relationships,” he explained, “so that they feel like they belong. Employees and long-term volunteers, like JD and Dan, set the tone so that we felt welcome, too.”
The class decided to do their own community-building activities through games. McNary noted that these games helped the students “work together by communicating and using different strategies to bring a sense of belonging to each member.” The class played the game “Spent” to learn about what poverty looks and feels like. The game helped them to connect with and relate to the people they were serving indirectly.
The students ended their eventful day by shopping for supplies to make bagged lunches for First Presbyterian Church of Atlanta. Garrett Bailey ’27 noted that being a servant leader sometimes involves stewardship. Sharing his experience, he reflects, “When we made sandwiches by purchasing the food, spending time and resources making lunches that they would enjoy, and experienced having too much or too little of something, and spending money wisely are all ways I experienced stewardship during this project.”
The students ate the same food that they prepared in the hope of understanding what their neighbors in need would experience when they got their lunches. Mrs. Holcomb felt the experience helped students feel empathy, which she states is “a key aspect of servant leadership.”
On Thursday, July 27, the class served at Suthers Center, a food pantry at St. Martin in the Fields Episcopal Church. Volunteer Coordinator Lauren shared that she wants people to know that it only takes one event to result in someone having to get food from their pantry. “It can happen to anyone,” she said. The Suthers Center pantry obtains food and restocks every Thursday so that they are ready to distribute food on Saturday mornings. Seeing the large amount of food that they brought in each week was eye-opening to the students.
On the final day of the experience, Friday, July 28, the class met to reflect on the ways they interacted with the community through service. Students brainstormed their reflections and explored all the way they were personally impacted by the events of the week.
The Servant Leadership Summer Immersion Experience exemplifies Marist’s commitment to fostering servant leadership through community service, hands-on experiences, and understanding the value of mutuality, belonging, and empathy in leadership. After the conclusion of the week, the participating Marist students are expected to put what they learned into practice during the school year in a project that gives back locally or to Marist. We eagerly anticipate seeing how these students share all they learned about servant leadership with our community.

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Marist School

3790 Ashford Dunwoody Road, NE
Atlanta, GA 30319-1899
(770) 457-7201
An Independent Catholic School of the Marist Fathers and Brothers