Last summer, Michal Kozlowski ’18 experienced a life-transforming moment. He had traveled over 4,200 miles from his home in Tarrytown, NY to spend a week in Krakow, Poland to attend World Youth Day. It was an opportunity to experience in-person the universality of the Church and to gather with over 1.2 million Catholics yearning to deepen their faith. It was there that Pope Francis posed a challenge which struck a chord with the Regis junior.
“Pope Francis challenged Catholics to ‘get out of your comfy couches, and go make your dream into a reality’,” recalled Kozlowski. “After hearing him say this, I realized how often I do dream, but do so in the comforts of my own ‘comfy couch.’”
Upon his arrival back in New York last August, Kozlowski had newfound inspiration to turn his dreams of service to others into a reality. His focus kept returning to the plight of Syrian refugees, something he learned a great deal about while at World Youth Day.
“I befriended many different people at World Youth Day, but the friendships that stuck most with me—in my heart—were my friendships with the Syrians and Lebanese. In talking to one Syrian friend, I found out that his brother did not make World Youth Day because his town was under ISIS control. He expressed his deepest fears on the situation in Syria, and expressed how difficult it was to get out and simply make the event.”
Kozlowski was determined to get involved.
“I wanted with all my heart to help those suffering in Syria, and I wanted to do it by mobilizing the type of youthful energy that was on display at World Youth Day.”
So in October of 2016, Kozlowski, along with six of his closest friends, founded a group called Relief United. The group’s mission is to raise funds and awareness for the humanitarian crisis in Syria and neighboring regions. They are currently comprised of 45 high school students representing ten different high schools in the Westchester and New York City area. They have partnered with CNEWA (Catholic Near East Welfare Association) to provide funds for aid in three medical sites in Aleppo and Lebanese refugee camps.
Kozlowski credits the enthusiasm of his peers and the guidance of the Holy Spirit for the quick mobilization of their efforts. He says the group hopes to organize and rally teenagers in Westchester and New York City “under a common goal of helping our brothers and sisters in Christ in Syria.”
The results of the group’s efforts will be on display on April 28, when they host their first major event at Kingsland Point Park in Sleepy Hollow. The event, a music festival dubbed “Project Syria LIVE” will feature entertainment, food, and opportunities to learn more about the refugee crisis in the Middle East. The event will serve as a fundraiser for CNEWA’s efforts in the region.
“We understand that we are a small sub-charity, so our monetary goals are humble,” said Kozlowski. “But our priority is to raise awareness, and this will be an awesome opportunity to do so. I hope we can reach out and spread the energy from World Youth Day locally with the potential to inspire others to help us make a difference.”
Since the fall, the countless people who have donated time, money, and talents to help the group’s efforts have served as a great comfort to its members. Kozlowsi says it has made him a stronger believer in the Holy Spirit and in the genuine goodness in the hearts of people.
Kozlowski describes himself as a "proud parishioner" of Transfiguration Church in Tarrytown, where he attended grammar school with five other founding members of Relief United, including Regis classmate Nick Sinopoli ’18. Recently, the group spent Holy Thursday at the United Nations attending a conference on faith-based charities and aid geared towards refugees.
“It was very inspiring to see Christians, Jews, and Muslims sitting on the same panel and working together to help the fellow human being in need. While there is so much fighting going on in the Middle East, watching a panel of different religions describe how they work together to help humanity really enabled me to see the world in a different way. We are all humans, and no matter our religion, political views, gender, or race,” said Kozlowski.
Kozlowski credits Regis for helping inspire him to want to serve beyond his local community.
“At Regis, I feel like my dreams have been pushed and stretched to a point where if I believe in something, I will give it my all,” reflected Kozlowski. “I love the fact that Regis forces its students to dream big, to truly take the tremendous gift that is a Regis education and use it to light the world on fire with energy and passion.”
Kozlowski, who is one of five Regis students planning a service trip to Kibera this summer, says that the tuition-free tradition at Regis has instilled in him an amazing sense of gratitude. This gratitude has evolved into a firm belief in social justice, and that the gifts he has been given are meant to be shared with the whole world.
“If we don’t escape our little bubble of comfort and don’t venture into the world to help others, then we have wasted our life. We are given gifts by God not to waste, but to cultivate and spread across the world,” added Kozlowski.
“I have been given a lot in my life and it is my responsibility to give back. A life of service to others is a life to which we are all called.”