05-13-11-CHN-16Green Bay Packers running back Ryan Grant and his date Lita Lewis have their picture taken with a cell phone prior to being introduced at the Burlington Catholic Central High School prom at Hawk’s View Golf Club May 13, near Lake Geneva. More photos taken at the prom can be viewed and purchased at http://photos.chnonline.org. (Catholic Herald photo by Allen Fredrickson)LAKE GENEVA – Students at Catholic schools “get it” when it comes to the importance and meaning of community service.

So says Ryan Grant, the Green Bay Packers running back who attended Burlington Catholic Central’s prom May 13 – and picked up the $8,000 tab.

“The fact is, there is a level of discipline that goes with Catholic education, and a sense of community and giving back,” said Grant.

Grant challenged the school’s junior class to raise money for a scholarship fund honoring Ryan Luxem, an 11-year-old Packer fan from Union Grove. The two became friends last fall before the youngster lost his battle with leukemia.

“To see a young kid go through for more than half of his life what he went through and be so positive and upbeat, it really put a lot of things in perspective for me,” said Grant.

Ryan used to donate origami art he had made to help the MACC Fund raise money for research into childhood cancer.

‘Ryan 4 Ryan Celebration Event’

Ryan Grant will host his first
“Ryan 4 Ryan Celebration Event” on July 10, to honor the memory of Ryan Luxem. This event will be held at Cool Waters Waterpark in Greenfield Park, in West Allis, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Fans can join Grant and many of his Green Bay Packer teammates and their families for a day of fun at the park. All money raised from the event will be put into a trust account for future Ryan Luxem Scholarships for Wilmont High School students, the school in which Ryan Luxem’s mother is a teacher.

For ticket information, visit tinyurl.com/6bk2amv.

“We can absolutely try to follow in his steps,” Grant told reporters.

That sentiment resonated at Catholic Central, where by tradition juniors not only raise thousands of dollars to pay for the prom but also study social justice in their theology course. Students are required to perform 15 hours of community service for each of the 3.5 credits of theology they take during high school.

Many kids exceed the requirement, amassing upward of 90 hours in a single semester, according to Susan Celentani, a theology and English teacher at the school.

“I tell my students nearly every day, ‘We are the hands and feet of Christ,’” she said. “Catholic Central is unique in the sense that our students always want to do more. They don’t do 15 hours and stop. It’s not a requirement – our students want to live it.”

Marlowe Jacobsen, a junior, said Catholic Central “is all about being a family and helping each other.” She volunteers in a bullying-prevention program at St. Mary and St. Charles elementary schools and works on projects benefiting LaCausa in Milwaukee, among many efforts.

Another junior, Tom Murray, gives his time at his parish, St. Francis de Sales, Lake Geneva, and was one of the models at Catholic Central’s annual spring fashion show, a major fundraiser for the school.

“The philosophy of our school is ‘Faith, Knowledge, Tradition,’” said Murray. “Our faith comes before everything else; we try to be one of the best schools academically in the area, and we are all carrying on our school’s legacy.”

Before they dressed up in their prom finery, Catholic Central students had collected more than $5,000 for the scholarship fund. Moneymaking projects included raffles, taco sales and the $20-per-couple prom tickets.

“Ryan Grant is an awesome, awesome young man, and very giving,” said principal Greg Groth. “We’re very honored he chose Catholic Central High School to work with.”

Hawk’s View Golf Club, site of the prom, buzzed with excitement on the school’s big night. When Grant and his girlfriend, Lita Lewis, arrived, they were whisked into media interviews. Armed with cameras, families lined a catwalk and awaited the “grand march” of the couples in attendance. Grant and Lewis, dressed in keeping with the Roaring ’20s theme of the prom, took a playful stroll when their turn came. They were crowned honorary king and queen.

Senior Maria Zampino, wearing a Packer-green dress, said she sensed greater purpose in the juniors’ fundraising efforts once Grant became involved.

“They actually seemed to want to do it more, because it was for someone else, not for the prom,” she said.

Rose Lemke, whose son Jeremy is a junior, called the new connection between Grant and the school “a symbiotic relationship.”

Scholarships, Grant’s prom appearance will be annual

Scholarships honoring the memory of Ryan Luxem will be awarded annually starting in May 2012, according to Ryan Grant’s agent, Stacy Jenson of Elite Sports & Public Relations.

Recipients will come from Wilmot High School, where Ryan Luxem’s mother, Amy, teaches. Grant himself expects to help choose them. One winner will be a football player, a second will be an artist, and a third will be a “teachers’ choice” selection.

Jenson said the dollar amount of the scholarships would depend on how much more money is raised when Grant hosts the Ryan4Ryan Celebration Event on July 10 at Cool Waters in Greenfield. Catholic Central students will be among the volunteers.

As for Catholic Central’s involvement with Grant, Jenson said, “We are not stopping this. He wants this to be an annual thing. “He will be at this prom every year.”

“It’s the impact they can have for a more important cause,” she said. “Ryan Grant got awareness for his cause. It’s really creative on his part.”

Grant is not Catholic, but graduated from Don Bosco Prep in Ramsey, N.J., and earned two degrees with a 4.0 GPA while playing four years of college football at Notre Dame. Walking into Catholic Central last March to make his sponsorship announcement to the junior class brought back memories from high school, he said, but with one big difference: “The fact that there were girls.”

What drew Grant to Don Bosco was that “academically and athletically, it was just better than the other programs in the area.”

Grant, 28, said he didn’t attend his own school’s prom, quipping that he was busy with “this thing called football.” Lewis, his girlfriend, grew up in Australia and was altogether unfamiliar with the prom concept, right down to not knowing the ceremonial nature of pinning on Grant’s red rose boutonnière.

Catholic Central is supported by 16 member parishes spread across Racine, Kenosha and Walworth counties. Its enrollment is 142 students, and roughly half of them attended prom. Grant gave each prom-goer a sterling silver picture frame as a keepsake of the evening.

After leading the Packers in rushing yards in 2009, Grant sustained an ankle injury that ended his season in September. While recovering from surgery, an email from a friend of the Luxem family convinced Grant to come to Milwaukee to meet Ryan. Less than seven weeks later, on Dec. 29, Ryan died, leading eventually to Grant’s affiliation with Catholic Central.

“We felt that, being a small school, they’d pay more attention to the task and get more out of it,” Grant said. “…They jumped at the challenge and responded very well. What they raised is phenomenal.”