Students pursue being Eucharist for the world

Jun 13, 2024
At left, Robbie Ridgeway, a class of 2024 graduate of Father Lopez Catholic High. At right, Jaden Nice, a class of 2024 graduate of Bishop Moore. (Courtesy)

ORLANDO | More than 700 students graduated from Diocese of Orlando Catholic high schools this year. As the National Eucharistic Congress approaches, Florida Catholic highlights some of them in this second of a two-part series, illustrating how they are Eucharist to the world around them.

Robbie Ridgeway

Father Lopez Catholic High School, Daytona Beach

Robbie Ridgeway, left, a class of 2024 graduate of Father Lopez in Daytona, led the National Honor Society in a supply drive and tutoring program for Westside Elementary School in Daytona Beach. (Courtesy)

Robbie Ridgeway grew up in Volusia County watching his parents volunteer in different capacities. He said they taught him to acknowledge the needs of others and respond to them when possible.

As a senior and president of the National Honor Society, Ridgeway pondered how the club could make a lasting impact in the community. A member of the Science, Math and Spanish Honor Societies, and Interact, a service-oriented organization, he was no stranger to helping those in need. Father Lopez requires every club to perform at least one service project per year. But Ridgeway wanted to go well beyond the bare minimum.

“I knew I wanted to do something local and outside of the Lopez community,” he said. “I wanted to reach further than that because I knew there was need in other places and I wanted to give back.”

Between studies, serving as captain of the Boys’ Varsity Weightlifting team, competing and sending out college applications, he wondered what could be done to help the county over the long-term, beyond graduation. “I wanted to do something where there was a need and I could do something about it,” said Ridgeway.

Then his mother mentioned Westside Elementary, a Title 1 school, meaning most of its students are economically disadvantaged and on free and reduced lunch programs. “I researched the school and saw they could really benefit from anything we could do,” he said.

After contacting staff, it was decided to start with a school supply drive. Then the idea for a tutoring program arose. He recalled, “They said they had some children in 3-5th grades needing help with multiplication. We began going on Wednesdays for an hour, trying to bring them back up to speed. It was really great because we had a lot of the same kids coming back over and over again. So, we really got to form a relationship with each of the students.”

The tutors worked one-on-one with five students. Ridgeway acknowledged he was surprised it went so well. “I had the pre-conceived notion that we were going to come in and they’re not going to want to talk to us. Or, they have enough going on and don’t want to spend another hour in school. And I really was proven wrong. The more we got to know the kids, they were excited to learn. They were excited to see us. I think they looked forward to it,” Ridgeway said.
He also noticed how kind and helpful the students were with one another. While the Father Lopez students were being Eucharist to them, they were Eucharist for one another.

As the new National Honor Society officers make the transition to leadership next year, they are planning improvements and expanding the tutoring program at Westside Elementary.

Ridgeway will attend the University of Florida in August 2024.

Jaden Nice

Bishop Moore Catholic High School, Orlando

Jaden Nice, a class of 2024 graduate of Bishop Moore, is seen her working on a book drive. The graduate ran multiple service projects her senior year. (Courtesy)

In 2019, Jaden Nice lost her father. Grieving immersed her into activities to keep her distracted while she processed the profound loss. The experience has made her resilient, appreciative, and committed to helping others.

“It’s probably the hardest thing I’ve ever gone through, but it’s also taught me to love and be love for others because I am so much more appreciative of all the blessings God has given me – of all the people in my life,” said Nice. “Yes, my dad has passed. I know he is with God and that I can emulate God’s love because I love him.”

Nice said, although she grew up attending Catholic school, she wasn’t “super close to God.” “I don’t think I really understood the true meaning of having a relationship with God until my dad passed away. I did a lot of reflecting and I chose to believe in God because it’s what got me through that grieving process. I turned to God when I needed guidance,” she said. And He was there to lead.

As a student at Bishop Moore, she said she learned key values like helping your neighbor. She saw those values in action through mission trips, canned food drives, and more. It developed her heart for service.

Then one summer she was speaking to a friend who attended public school. The friend shared her family was struggling to afford food during the summer months because they didn’t have access to free meals at school.

“It opened my eyes to an issue that was so close to me, but I wasn’t aware of it,” Nice said. “I wanted to do something to alleviate it, so I started a virtual fundraiser for Second Harvest Food Bank in the hopes it would help students lacking access to free or reduced meal programs.”

She went door-to-door, used social media outreach, and contacted people personally, raising enough for 12,000 meals.

“It made me feel so good about myself to know that I was able to help my community in a way that had a genuine impact,” she said.

Motivated by the call to Catholic stewardship and care for the earth, she started a Sustainability Club, beginning with an awareness campaign at school advocating the use of minimalism.

“The mission is to raise awareness of the environmental issues of our generation and to promote sustainable use of our resources,” Nice said. “People our age especially are very consumption-based. They want to buy things which contribute trash to the landfill. We helped spread awareness of not needing to get things in individualized packaging for example.”

The club also raised money for a hydroponics garden, collaborating with that club to grow sustainable crops indoors.

Her list of clubs and charitable deeds is long and stems from an ever-deepening relationship with God.

“I have a very personal relationship with God,” she said. “It’s not that structured but when I have free time, I talk to Him.

I reevaluate where I am in life and how I can be closer to God and be living out His message. If I can emulate Christ’s life, then other people will be drawn to that as well,” she said. Recognizing He has been with her, bringing peace in her most difficult moments, she said she too wants “to be a source of light for others.”

Nice will attend the University of Pennsylvania. She is unsure of her course of study, but is considering law.