No one is too young to learn about God’s love and the importance of helping others.
That’s the message St. Alphonsus Parish in Auburn is hoping to instill in young parishioners through its Children’s Crafting Ministry, which was formed last year. Through this ministry, children of all ages meet during the coffee hour held after the parish’s 10 a.m. Mass on the third Sunday of each month. During these meetings they complete a craft or activity and learn about their faith while their parents visit with other parishioners during the coffee hour.
The completed crafts or activities typically are later used to serve others within the Auburn community, explained Aaron Wilson, pastoral minister at St. Alphonsus.
“We were looking for something for the children to do to keep them in touch with their faith and keep them busy so their parents could socialize and relax during the coffee hour,” Wilson explained.
Wilson turned to Linda Harwood for help. With 15 grandchildren of her own, Harwood is something of a professional grandmother. She is affectionately referred to as “Noni” by her own grandchildren as well as the many neighborhood children who frequently visit her yard, especially during the summer months.
“Children I haven’t even seen call me Noni,” Harwood said with a laugh. “I have a pool in the back so the kids are all welcome to come to the pool. I keep a freezer full of hot dogs and a freezer full of burgers in the summer, and I make hundreds of hot dogs and burgers.”
Harwood jumped at the chance to help with the new children’s crafting ministry at St. Alphonsus because she loves children and believes in their potential, she said.
“I think they are precious, every single one of them. I think the kids are the future of the parish and the more you get them involved (in service) at a younger age, the more invested they are in doing that kind of stuff,” said Harwood, who enlisted the help of Madalyn Nolan and Kathy Kopec.
When Harwood gathered the children for the first time during a coffee hour last spring, she showed them how to use tulle to wrap small bunches of candy. She and the children then put the candy into baskets with some flowers and brought the baskets to three local nursing homes.
“The kids loved it and the residents loved it. It was so sweet,” Harwood said.
The next month, Harwood showed the children how to plant vegetable seeds in small pots. That meeting drew more than 30 kids, the youngest of whom was less than a year old, while the oldest was more than 16, she said. While they worked, they learned about the parable of the sower found in the Gospels, Wilson said.
One month later, the children transplanted their vegetable plants into a small garden on the parish grounds. This time they learned about the Garden of Eden while they worked.
“Father Tim Niven was gracious enough to let us till up a spot of lawn outside his office,” Wilson remarked. “We were out there weeding and we talked about the very first job in history was Adam taking care of the garden, and we talked about the importance of keeping the garden in good shape.”
Later in the summer, the children harvested their plants’ bounty and brought all of the vegetables to St. Alphonsus Food Pantry.
“The day that the kids brought all the stuff to the food pantry, I had tears in my eyes,” Harwood recalled. “It was just beautiful, it really was, and the parents felt the same way. You could tell.”
While they’re working on their projects, the children and Harwood talk about the importance of giving back and serving others, and the children really seem to understand and internalize that message, she said.
“I think when you talk to children when they’re younger, I think that really makes a huge difference. Children are very empathetic, and I think they understand,” Harwood said.
Helping other people is fun, agreed 9-year-old Thomas Passarello. Thomas has been participating in the Children’s Crafting Ministry for several months now and said he especially enjoyed planting and picking the vegetables in the parish’s garden.
In October, he and the other children made cards, which they will deliver to local nursing homes in November. Deciding what to write on the cards was fun, according to Thomas, who said he wrote things like, “Feel better,” and “We have faith in you,” on the cards he made.
“I just thought about nice words,” he explained.
Thomas’ mother, Denise Passarello, said she’s glad St. Alphonsus provides an opportunity for children like her son to spend time with other kids their own age in a positive environment.
“That socialization and sharing with kids who have the same beliefs I think is awesome,” Passarello said.