Mahatma Gandhi once said, “The best way to find oneself is to lose oneself in the service of others.”
The four children of Robert and Katherine Prihoda—Robert, Stephen, Michael, and Karen—are living that truth as they spend their summer “giving back” by working with inner city children at the Mercer County CYO Day Camp on South Broad Street, Trenton. As they shepherd their charges on playgrounds and in classrooms, the Prihodas are learning invaluable lessons about themselves, their world, and living their faith.
The Prihodas are members of St. Gregory the Great Parish, Hamilton, where the children all attended the parish school.
In 2004, as a freshman at the Lawrenceville School, Lawrenceville, Robert needed to find a community service project. His mother, remembering her participation during the teen years, suggested the CYO camp. That first year Robert served as a volunteer then returned the following summer as a junior camp counselor. When he fulfilled Lawrenceville’s community service obligation, the staff offered him a paid position. He has spent every summer as a senior counselor to 25 children. His brothers and sister, also enrolled at Lawrenceville, chose to fulfill their service requirements at the CYO camp. Like Robert’s, the volunteer experience of brothers Stephen and Michael eventually led to paid summer employment.
The four Prihoda children shared insights they have gained during their “CYO Summers,” as they call them at home.
“I supervised children and learned a lot from the senior counselors,” said Robert who, at age 23, just graduated The College of New Jersey with a master of arts degree in teaching.
“I worked as a tutor with students and enjoyed making a positive difference in the kids’ lives,” he said. “It was good to see that my working with them resulted in maybe a ten or 15 percent improvement in their test scores.”
His work at the camp and in a tutoring program cut a path to his career choice. In September, Robert will step into his own classroom as teacher of history in the upper level of Trenton Catholic Academy, Hamilton.
Stephen Prihoda, now in his fifth summer at the camp, is a senior counselor who is fulfilled most by the connecting with the seven and eight year olds entrusted to his care. “I don’t impart anything special. I make sure they are safe, having a good time and feel at home,” he said.
An accounting major beginning his junior year at Rutgers University, New Brunswick, Stephen feels that his work at the camp has proved that “I can manage groups of people and work effectively as a leader, which is not just to give orders but to give direction. I have also learned to manage stress and keep cool” when problems arise.
Seventeen-year-old Michael , who will enter his senior year at Lawrenceville, is spending his third summer at the camp teaching typing to all the different groups of children enrolled at the South Broad Street camp. “It is so fulfilling to know I can teach them something. When kids ask a question, I answer it. If I don’t know an answer, I look it up and learn something new. I have learned patience—kids may ask questions several times before they get something, so being patient helps.”
As he plans his future, Michael will hold fast to the discovery that he “values doing something that makes another’s life better. Whether I choose to study chemistry or pharmacy, maybe I can improve some aspect of life.”
Karen Prihoda, soon to be sophomore at Lawrenceville, works as a first-year volunteer with the youngest children of the camp. I play with them at the park or in the gym. Sometimes I supervise, or I am organizing games.”
She can see her future unfolding before her. “I always wanted to be a teacher; I can see it more now. I see I can be in charge of kids.”
Karen and her brothers realize that the world of the Lawrenceville School is far removed from that of the children they serve each day.
Stephen admitted, “Actually, it shaped me into a more responsible adult.”
Robert agreed. “Working with inner city kids has humbled me. I thank God for the privileges I’ve received.” He sees his work at the CYO as a way of living the Gospel message and living the Mass.
“Working with the poor poses greater challenges, but greater gratification,” said Thomas Mladenetz, executive director of CYO of Mercer County. “It has been amazing to watch the Prihoda kids grow into mature, responsible Catholic young people. They are from an outstanding Catholic family and good role models for other young people.”