Michigan high school students are redefining the term “extracurricular activity.”
In addition to club meetings, band practices and football games, University of Detroit Jesuit High School and Academy teens are also signing up to serve as pallbearers for homeless veterans.
Six students recently volunteered to be pallbearers for three dead homeless veterans.
Senior Joshua Gonzales is one of the student leaders who helped develop the program. He said this new opportunity for students is “meant to help dignify and respect the human being.”
The students’ initial plan was to carry the caskets for homeless individuals, said the Rev. Karl Kiser, the school president. But after working with local funeral home A.J. Desmond & Sons, the students narrowed their focus to the largest group of homeless people in need of the pallbearing service: unclaimed veterans.
More than 50 students attended the first training session at the beginning of the month, a number that surprised funeral director Kevin Desmond, who said he expected no more than 20.
“It tells a lot about their character, how they care for other people without those there for them,” Desmond said.
Pope Francis’ recent visit to Philadelphia acted as motivation for Junior Noah Tylutki.
“I thought that being a pallbearer for forgotten veterans was a great way to be a witness to Pope Francis’ message,” Tylutki said.
The idea began two years ago when Director of Service Todd Wilson took a group of students to St. Ignatius High School in Cleveland, where a similar program is in place.
Initially, the idea didn’t take off, Wilson said. “We wanted the students to want to do it. Interest was renewed and a group of student leaders worked over the summer to develop a training program as a pallbearer.”
A second training session for students interested in the pallbearer program is expected to be offered in November, according to Wilson.