News & Stories

Students Discover the Joy of Giving

January 30, 2024

Sacred Heart Academy SHARKS bring us Closer to Free!

Jenn Raccio, Director of Student Experience and Engagement at Sacred Heart Academy in Hamden, was profoundly affected by her first Closer to Free Ride in 2018.

“The sense of love, community, and pride when I finished was unlike anything else,” she says.

Jenn wanted that feeling for her “girls,” the high school students at Sacred Heart Academy (SHA). “We try to ingrain the value of community service into the kids’ DNA so it becomes a lifelong commitment and joy for them,” Jenn says. “The Closer to Free Ride was a way to double down — to show them how important community service is and give them an unforgettable experience.”

Last April, Jenn introduced the students to the idea, and created an official SHA Closer to Free Team, “The Sharks” (named for the school mascot). So many students tried to sign up that she had to turn some away (next year, she hopes to be able to field a bigger team). On Ride day, there were nearly sixty students, faculty, and staff arriving for duty as riders or volunteers.

Some of the girls handed out snacks and drinks to thirsty riders at a rest stop in Wallingford, while the rest worked at the Yale Bowl — the starting and end point for the Ride — monitoring traffic and safety, caring for little ones at the kids’ tent, and cheering riders on at the finish line. And some of the girls pedaled their way along the route, joining survivors and their cycling teams.

Jenn knew the girls would be swept up in the enthusiasm and celebratory spirit of the Ride, but she wanted to be sure they appreciated the seriousness of the cause as well. “I told them to look specifically for the people with survivor jerseys,” she says, “because those are the men and women they would be there for.”

Jenn wasn’t with the student volunteers during the Ride — she was out there on her bicycle on the 25-mile route — so she couldn’t wait to hear their reactions when it was over.

“When they came back to school on Monday, they were so positive and excited,” Jenn says. “In fact, the seniors were already asking if they could come back from college next year to volunteer again!”

Thank you, SHA students and faculty, for helping to move our world CLOSER TO FREE!