When Rachel Moody traveled to Orlando last year with a group of teenagers undergoing treatment at M.D. Anderson, she had one small request.
“I told them, ‘I want to go with the group that likes roller coasters!’” she said.
Soon accompanied by five fellow thrill-seekers, Rachel and her new friends had their fill of rides like The Hulk, Dragon Challenge, Jurassic Park and the Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster at the Disney parks and Universal Studios.
The Florida trip was one of many excursions and activities sponsored each year by Sunshine Kids Foundation, a non-profit organization devoted to providing children with cancer with positive group activities in the spirit of celebrating life.
Rachel, who graduated from St. Catherine’s in 2004, works in development at Sunshine Kids and occasionally gets to tag along on one of the big national trips, seeing firsthand how much the teens enjoy the time to bond and play together.
“I think the best part was just these teens reverting back to a childlike state of wonder, which is kind of Montessori-like,” she said. “They were so excited to go on every ride and as soon as they got off, they would look at me and say ‘Can we go again?!’ It's just that simple pleasure of forgetting about the troubles in your life and what needs to be done, and instead, just holding on tight to that handlebar and screaming at the top of your lungs. We all need a break once in awhile, but these kids need it more than any of us.”
Although Sunshine Kids serves children nationwide, the organization is based in Houston, and Rachel has enjoyed the opportunity to become involved with the foundation’s local activities, which include Astros games, Mad Science parties, weekend getaways to Galveston and Schlitterbahn, hospital parties, and more.
“These are opportunities for the kids to get away from the hospital for a while and to get together with other kids going through the same thing,” she said. “Whenever someone gets cancer, a lot of the family money goes to treatment—not something like a baseball game—so we take the kids to the game, and then they also get to meet the players.”
Rachel says her work at Sunshine Kids is an extension of childhood interests and an attitude cultivated during her formative years at St. Catherine’s. She attended St. Catherine’s from Primary through Adolescent Community. When she started Primary, her mother, Cynthia Blessman, had just been hired as one of the school’s three Primary guides, working alongside Sisters Shirley Owens and Edna Ann Hebert.
Rachel fondly remembers being in Sister Shirley’s class and spending time with both founding Sisters.
“I remember it just being hilarious being around them,” she said. “Sometimes we would go places in their van, and I would forget they were my teachers. They had one of those ginormous cell phones in the middle of the van, and I just remember sitting there laughing with them. But honestly, that was St. Catherine’s—everyone was like that—I loved all my teachers.”
After finishing her 9th year at St. Catherine’s, Rachel completed high school at Duchesne Academy and her bachelor’s degree in Peace Studies at Manhattan College in the Bronx.
Her work in Peace Studies involved a multidisciplinary study of government, philosophy, religion, history and literature to better understand and promote peaceful practices. Rachel sought out this particular program because of her interest in the legacy of Maria Montessori.
“I think my 7th-grade year, we did a year-long study of peace, which ended with our odyssey trip to D.C.,” she said. “I had always liked learning about Maria Montessori, and she said so much that peace comes through children and education, and that really stuck with me.”
In addition to influencing her vision and values, St. Catherine’s was also a wonderful source of practical skills and conceptual understanding that she continues to rely upon today.
Always a fan of math, Rachel vividly remembers learning specific skills—like multiplying large numbers in Lower Elementary and dimensional analysis in Adolescent Community. She also confesses to secretly staying up late in her younger years to do math problems in bed.
“When you’re not having to rattle off information, you can actually enjoy learning,” she said. “Having those three levels in the classroom, it allows you to learn from the older kids, and then when you’re older, you teach the younger ones. You’re learning all together.”
Nowadays, the math Rachel doesn’t use daily in her fundraising work comes back easily when she needs it. Although she’s no longer in a Montessori classroom, she still enjoys helping others with studies in math or other subjects. Her continued interests in collaboration and learning are part of the St. Catherine’s culture that she aspires to carry forward.
“Honestly I feel like St. Catherine’s has shaped everything—everything from how I relate to people my own age, to my teachers and my bosses, and to learning, too,” she said. “I still love learning things about my job, and you realize at a certain point that you’ll never stop learning. St. Catherine’s has a lot of that. It instills that sense of community and that love of learning that never goes away.”