By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published May 14, 2009
Natalie Shepherd remembers the embraces of the women and children she served during her school trip to Honduras.
“That was a trip of a lifetime, an incredible experience,” she said about traveling with some 20 other students from Pius X High School and chaperones, including her father.
During the first days of the spring break trip, the students visited a mission where single mothers work.
“All the little kids just run out to meet you halfway down the path and grab your hands and carry you up and everything. But it wasn’t the kids that made such a lasting impression. One of the moms came up to me and just hugged me without saying one word. We didn’t speak the same language. It was just that unconditional love,” she said.
The group broke ground to construct a security fence. Shepherd said she and her father, Kristopher, drew closer over the backbreaking chore.
Another day was spent at a girls boarding school to play soccer and they also visited a boys boarding school.
The experience was so moving that in the summer she is returning to Central America, this time to Nicaragua with young people at her parish, St. Monica Church in Duluth. This time the focus of her work will be abandoned children.
Natalie is graduating from St. Pius X. She heads to Georgia Tech in the fall. She wants to study pre-architecture and feels God is leading her to design churches.
“It went by fast. I am excited to just kind of move on and try something new. I’m excited to be able to push the limits,” she said of the milestone. “I’m ready for that experience and see what I can take on.”
Natalie said she is keeping her expectations in check but wants to be “the best person I can be and let God take care of the rest.”
Asked what advice she’d give younger high school students, Natalie said, “Surround yourself with the right people. Surround yourself with people who truly care about you.”
Friends help each other grow during high school, she said.
Natalie, the oldest of three children, lives in Suwanee. Her father is a lawyer and her mom, Mary, is a hospital executive.
Natalie said she came out of her shell after her sophomore year. Before that, she kept her distance, focusing on her class work. But she joined the Honor Council, the student panel that deals with students accused of breaking the school’s honor code.
“I like the idea of honor and having that upheld in the school,” she said. “It is one of those jobs that very few people like to do,” she said. “I don’t know why people make it out that the rules are the bad thing. Sometimes they are for your good.”
Her confirmation at St. Monica’s meant something to her. She became a leader in the school’s campus ministry program as well as at her parish. She serves as an extraordinary minister of holy Communion at school.
“I got excited about my faith for the first time,” she said. “I decided if I am going to live it at my church, I am going to live it everywhere. So I just decided to get involved.”