Local student to host Christmas party for special needs students

By: Thomas Franz | Macomb Township Chronicle | Published December 7, 2016

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MACOMB TOWNSHIP — A local girl is planning a party for a cause close to her heart.

Liza Lucaj, a Macomb Township resident and a senior at Austin Catholic High School in Chesterfield Township, plans to host a Christmas party for students with special needs Dec. 17.

Lucaj’s little sister Gina, 13, sustained a brain injury prior to being born when her mother was in a car crash during pregnancy.

Gina has battled cerebral palsy and a host of other health challenges early in her life, but has been an inspiration for her older sister.

“I absolutely love my sister Gina, and she’s the light of not only my life, but of everyone she meets,” Lucaj said. “So, I wanted to do something for her and everyone like her, because they’re just like everyone else.”

Lucaj’s party is her Caritas project, which is required for Austin students to complete for graduation. Students must also perform a minimum of 100 hours of community service throughout their four years of attendance.

Lisa Schulz, a teacher at Austin who also helps with the school’s campus ministry, said the goal of the project is for students to work directly with the people they aim to help.

“We try to stress that to them, to work with certain organizations where they can actually meet with them, as opposed to fundraising and handing over a check,” Schulz said.

Schulz also said that students must write a reflection paper on their project to convey how their work impacted them personally.

“They’ll hear a person’s life story, and it impacts them in some way. We want to hear about any significant moments, and if they learned anything from this experience,” Schulz said.

The party is scheduled to run from 10 a.m. to noon and will feature several Christmas activities like ornament decorating, cookie and gingerbread house decorating, games, face painting, dancing, and visits with Santa Claus and his Christmas dogs.

“Gina is an inspiration to me and always brightens my day. I’d like to give back by spreading that light into the community,” Lucaj said.

Lucaj, the vice president of Austin’s student government, estimated that 40 other Austin students are assisting her with planning and hosting the party. She is a part of a 13-student senior class, which is Austin’s second graduating class since opening in 2011.

“It’s honestly amazing, from the beginning to see how far we’ve gotten. It’s definitely a blessing we have such an amazing staff and families and students,” Lucaj said of her class.

Admission to the party is free, but registration is required. Families may register to SpecialNeedsChristmas@yahoo.com or by calling the school at (586)-200-0143. Austin Catholic High School is located at 25925 23 Mile Road, just west of Gratiot Avenue in Chesterfield.