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Student brings peace-building skills to her many talents

  • Katy Donchik with Abalee, one of her students in Pommern, Tanzania, in August 2013

Katy Donchik
Age:
17
Profession: Student
Lives on: Staten Island, N.Y.

Sr. Camille: Katy, the head of Pax Christi Metro New York, Rosemarie Pace, presented you with its first Maloof Family Young Peacebuilder Award for the good work you do to make your world -- be it at home, at school, in your neighborhood, throughout the city, our country, or overseas -- a better place. That's a lot of territory for someone so young to have traveled.

Would you please tell us what you've done in these far-flung places? Let's start with the overseas experience. Did you really go to Tanzania?

Donchik: Tanzania was amazing. There's no other word to describe this experience. My family and I decided to travel there through an organization called Global Volunteers. We wanted to have a charitable vacation. We wanted to be able to experience the country of Tanzania for what it really is and not simply look at the tourist areas.

How did you manage that?

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We stayed in a small village called Pommern for three weeks. It was a village comprised of brick and mud homes and red dirt roads. (I actually still have that stubborn red dirt in the shoes I wore.) Each day, we were assigned different jobs in the morning. Those jobs ranged from constructing a new latrine for the primary school to dehorning the cattle. We worked in the schools and taught the kids English while picking up a little bit of Swahili ourselves. It was amazing being able to walk from the mission house we were staying at to the small church down the road and being swarmed by little kids asking to play ball with us.

Did they have a favorite sport?

Despite the language barriers, soccer became a major uniting factor for the kids and us. I know that my time there was beneficial and that I did help the lives of the people there, but they did so much more for me. I realize just how blessed I am. I was able to experience a culture completely different from mine, and I learned a language that is unique and beautiful. I wouldn't change a thing about my trip. I miss Tanzania every day. It was definitely the most life-changing experience I've had. 

What project did you embrace in our country?

Last summer, I traveled to Tennessee with my school for Habitat for Humanity. There was a group of about 20 girls. None of us had actually done serious construction together. We were taught by the other Habitat volunteers and were actually even allowed to go up onto the roof at the end to lay out the tar paper. I did things that I had never thought I would've done before. We worked really hard together, no matter what the weather was like. Fortunately, it didn't rain much, but when it did, we used the time to clear out a previously owned house. Inside, this house was dirty and cluttered. It definitely wasn't somewhere that we wanted to spend time in. However, we were able to sort out a system of some girls clearing out the clutter, other girls sweeping and mopping, and others painting the cleared rooms, depending upon how comfortable they felt with the situation. This system allowed us to still get the job done and reconnect with why we came to Tennessee in the first place: to help other people.

What contributions do you make to your school?

At school, I'm the student body president, so with that comes a lot of responsibility. Once school started, our senior class had its first real event together. For Halloween, we all dressed up to raise money for a charity of our choice. Selling cupcakes and candy isn't exactly the cleanest activity but definitely a lot of fun for everyone involved; however, we didn't clean up our Halloween mess fully. This caused a lot of tension between our senior class and the administration at our school. So much so that our senior lounge tables were taken away from us. Fortunately, a group of girls and I were able to meet with the administration and peacefully talk through all the issues at hand. We fortunately got our tables back, and since then, we haven't had a single problem!

You seem grounded in a perspective that leads you to help resolve conflicts and improve living conditions. Who or what influenced you in these pursuits?

I think I learned a lot of these skills at home. I'm the oldest of four kids, so there's definitely some competition in the house. We're all fairly close in age, so we pretty much did everything together growing up. I think that because I'm the oldest, I got a lot of responsibility thrown upon me. I learned how to handle that responsibility effectively and how to settle disputes, make peace, and ensure everyone's happiness. My parents were also very big on letting us solve our own problems. They wanted us to learn how to approach a conflict effectively. They really pushed our independence, which made us all really confident kids.

Where and with whom did you grow up?

I was born and raised in Staten Island, N.Y. I have two sisters, Lily, 15, and Bridget, 13, and a brother, James, 12.

How would you describe your parents?

My parents are definitely unique. They are not like most parents. They will make me do things that challenge and push me past what I think are my limits.

Do you have particular role models?

I don't really have a role model but I definitely admire the creator of TOMS shoes, Blake Mycoskie. He started a really productive business that was not only creating a huge revenue, but also helping so many people in need. The creativity he has inspires me. I hope one day to be able to say that I have done something as successful.

Who among your friends share your vision?

My best friend, Colleen Mernar, and I have basically the same mentality, which is weird at times, but it's really nice to have someone that you can turn to no matter what. She is always thinking about the big picture. She supports me in whatever crazy idea I pitch to her. 

What do you like best about Notre Dame Academy?

I like the familial aspect of it. It sounds corny, but we are the Notre Dame sisters. We come into this school not knowing anybody, and you'll leave a much more confident and determined woman. You never feel like you're overstepping your boundaries by wanting to start a new club or trying to become the leader of one. It's a very inclusive environment, which I'm definitely going to miss. It's not often that you get a place where individuality and togetherness are fostered.

Do you have a favorite subject?

Definitely biology. Science in general is something that I love, though. I've always loved to study how things work and why things happen. Stick me in any science class and I'll probably have a blast.

Are you involved in sports or extracurricular activities?

I've played for my school's varsity softball team for three years now and was captain this year. My freshman year, I played junior varsity. I've been involved in student government all four years of high school, and I was actually elected student body president my senior year! I've done the school play for the past three years, and this year I was lucky enough to have gotten the leading role (Ariel Moore) in "Footloose." 

Do you have a favorite Scripture passage or Bible story?

Romans 8:38-39. "For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord."

How and with whom do you pray best?

I pray best by myself. It allows me to remove myself from all distractions and only focus on my conversation with God.

For what are you especially grateful?

I'm especially grateful for my family. I am so grateful of everything that they've done for me. Everything from exposing me to the hardships in Tanzania and to sending me to Notre Dame.

Any college plans?

I'll be attending Colby College in Waterville, Maine, in the fall. 

Are you considering any professions?

Ideally, I'd like to become a veterinarian. 

Do you have a favorite TV program?

I'm not too big of a TV person, but I loved the show "Breaking Bad."

Book?

I'd have to say The Book Thief. It's the only book to have made me cry.

Movie?

"Elf." It doesn't matter if it's Christmas or not, that movie cracks me up every time.

Game?

Monopoly.

Music?

Ed Sheeran is definitely my favorite.

Where do you see yourself 10 years from now, before your 28th birthday?

I see myself as a veterinarian. Maybe I'm married. I have a home of my own. I am starting to put together my charitable business. I'm happy and I'm healthy. 

And, I'm quite sure, very grateful.

[Mercy Sr. Camille D'Arienzo, broadcaster and author, narrates Stories of Forgiveness, a book about people whose experiences have caused them to consider the possibilities of extending or accepting forgiveness. The audiobook, renamed Forgiveness: Stories of Redemption, is available from Now You Know Media.]

Editor's note: We can send you an email alert every time Sr. Camille's column, Conversations with Sr. Camille, is posted. Go to this page and follow directions: Email alert signup.

A version of this story appeared in the July 4-17, 2014 print issue under the headline: Student brings along peace-building skills .

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