Day of service: Ave Maria law students sweat together before studying together

Kneeling in a vegetable garden, shaking the dirt from just-plucked weeds, John-Michael Thiesen advised new Ave Maria law students on how to write briefs and how not to highlight readings.

If the whole page is painted, the 23-year-old third-year student told the others, you’ve done it wrong.

In an annual event that is equal parts community service and bonding, about 200 Ave Maria School of Law students lent a hand around Collier County on Saturday during their “massive day of service” in anticipation of the start of classes Monday.

Some spent the day up fixing up the grounds of Immokalee’s Guadalupe Catholic Church. Others held a car wash in Golden Gate to raise money for Catholic Charities, or helped out at the Boys & Girls Club and St. Matthew’s House in East Naples.

“It adds to the camaraderie,” said Jose Melendez, 29. As a second-year student, he oversaw the underclassmen working in Immokalee on Saturday.

“Here we’re sweating together, next we’ll be in class together,” he said.

With the sun almost overhead, the 35 volunteers at the church scraped rust off the wrought iron gate, washed the stained glass windows, tilled the vegetable garden and painted.

“They’re getting paid for it,” said Father Alex Dalpiaz, pausing for effect, “in heaven!”

Dalpiaz, a priest at the parish, led the painters as they covered up the smudged walls of the classrooms where catechism classes are held during the school year.

“‘By the sweat of your brow shall you earn your wage.’ That’s what the Lord said,” Dalpiaz said, joking with the first-year students, some of whom only recently moved to Southwest Florida. “But they’re not sweating. They’re in the AC.”

Since Ave Maria School of Law opened in Naples in 2009, the day of service before kicking off classes has become an annual event, though the locations change from year to year based on the need of the benefitting organizations.

Third-year student Chris Koopman, 24, is a member of the first Ave Maria law class to begin and end its studies at the school’s Naples location.

On Saturday, he headed the window-washing team at the church.

“There’s more to life than sitting in a library,” said Koopman. “We’re training to be lawyers but people who do good in the community as well.”

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