Christmas Joy Offering gifts help students afford well-rounded education
by Pat Cole | Presbyterian News Service
LOUISVILLE — While a summertime academic emphasis is not unusual for high-achieving high school students, Lucianna (Luci) Astorga’s educational focus between school years has been much different than that of other scholastically-minded peers.
Luci has not spent her summers in cultural exchange programs or in university-sponsored enrichment activities. Nor has she sequestered herself at home preparing for college entrance exams. Since the eighth grade, this honor roll student’s summer priority has been on paying tuition for the upcoming academic year at the school she loves, the Menaul School in Albuquerque, N.M. Now an 11th grader, Luci has earned part of her tuition by pulling weeds, filing papers and cleaning classrooms at the school through Menaul’s summer work program.
Her education at Menaul also has been made possible in part by gifts to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s Christmas Joy Offering, which benefits Menaul and other Presbyterian schools and colleges equipping communities of color.
The Offering is especially important for families like Luci’s. She is the daughter of a single mother who is unable to work due to a medical disability. Luci’s mother, Dolores, has limited financial means, but gifts from the Christmas Joy Offering helped open the door for Luci and her two sisters, Marianna, her twin, and Esperanza, a May 2018 graduate, to attend Menaul.
Dolores told school officials she wanted her daughters to go to Menaul because of its excellent academic offerings and its Christian grounding. The school worked with Dolores to devise a financial aid package to make her daughters’ attendance at Menaul possible. Like Luci, Marianna and Esperanza also have participated in the summer work program.
Luci said Menaul has lived up to its reputation in both its academic and spiritual emphases. “Chapel and religion classes really help with spiritual growth,” she said. “Being able to grow spiritually is one thing that really drew us here.”
Menaul has also helped stretch her intellect. “The classes here aren’t the easiest classes,” she said. “They are challenging, so you really have to be on the edge of your seat and be ready for anything that comes at you.”
While Menaul is academically demanding, Luci emphasized that it maintains a nurturing environment, which helps students achieve their dreams in the classroom and beyond. For example, Luci came to Menaul aspiring to be a singer, but during her first music class solo nerves got the best of her. She was in tears before the song ended. “The teachers were supportive and made me feel better about it,” she said. “I decided that even though it was something I was uneasy about, it was something I wanted to do.”
Today she is at ease singing solos with the Menaul Choir, and she enjoys acting and singing in dramatic musicals. Perhaps her most challenging performance was a role in “South Pacific,” which was staged by a community theater in Albuquerque. Among her favorite past times is listening to classical music and tunes from Broadway shows. “I’m kind of a nerd in that way,” she acknowledged with a chuckle.
While she is known around campus for her infectious smile and cheery attitude, these qualities do not blind her to the needs of her community and the larger world. Luci said Menaul’s service projects and mission trips have helped shape her career aspirations. She would like to be a nurse or a teacher.
“I really do want to help people,” she said. “I know that sounds like a cliché, but that (desire to help) is what I got from Menaul.”
The Christmas Joy Offering supports future leaders like Luci. It also assists past and current church leaders and their families who are in financial need. Half of the offering goes to Menaul and other Presbyterian-related schools and colleges equipping communities of color, and half goes to the Assistance Program of the Board of Pensions. Most congregations receive the Offering during the Advent and Christmas seasons.
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