As the devastation of Hurricane Katrina unfolded on television, Cassi Dalle felt compelled to take some kind of action.
“I was watching The Weather Channel with my parents and I just randomly said ‘I wish there was something I could do to help out,'” recalled Cassi, 16. “Just seeing these people in so much agony just makes me cry.”
Cassi then shared her sentiments with Beth Blodgett, youth minister at St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Greece. As it turned out, Blodgett had already been cooking on an idea, and Cassi — who belongs to Greece’s St. John the Evangelist Parish but attends the St. Charles youth group — jumped right on board.
Blodgett has begun an “Adopt-A-Family” campaign, asking diocesan parishes to directly support families affected by Katrina once they have been relocated. She said that approximately 20 people — many of them fellow youth ministers — have committed thus far as sponsors. (Others interested in sponsoring may contact Blodgett at 585/663-3230 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Blodgett said her goal is to forward not only donated items, but cards and letters of support as well. Cassi, who said she is “addicted to helping people,” thinks that “the Adopt-A-Family idea is amazing.”
Blodgett plans to involve her entire youth group in the project.
“They seem very excited about it, being able to reach out more than just by putting money in the second collection,” she said.
That’s not to say that cash donations aren’t extremely important. As of late September, the Rochester Diocese had raised approximately $500,000 in overall contributions toward Katrina relief. Meanwhile, Cassi noted that she and her mother launched a candle-selling fundraiser and had already sold almost $900 of merchandise.
In the Finger Lakes, the youth group at the six-parish Our Lady of the Lakes Catholic Community is eyeing an adoption arrangement similar to Blodgett’s. Martha DeBoover, youth minister, said the group is readying for the possibility of a displaced family moving to the area.
“Clothes, food — whatever we can do to have a hands-on experience with someone in need,” DeBoover said.
How about this for hands-on? If all goes as hoped, St. Patrick’s School in Owego, Tioga County, will have several new students through the efforts of the school’s Fathers’ Club. That group is working toward bringing in children who had been attending Resurrection Catholic School in Pascagoula, Miss. The building was ransacked by Hurricane Katrina. According to Dan Martin, project organizer, the displaced students would live with host families and attend St. Patrick’s School at no cost.
The Mississippi-Owego connection exists through JeJe Fitzgerald, whose daughter, Jessica, is a second-grader at St. Patrick’s School. Fitzgerald was born and raised in Pascagoula, where she said most of her family and friends have “lost homes, and everything in them” due to Katrina.
Martin said there were still several details to iron out. But even if the students from Mississippi don’t materialize, Martin still considers this good preparation for a future disaster-relief effort.
“We have a vehicle in place so that if something ever happens again, we can turn it on,” he said.
All these initiatives reflect positive responses to tragedy. DeBoover, also, opted to promote the positive at a meeting for Our Lady of the Lakes’ youth group on Sept. 18. Approximately 20 teens, young adults and parents reflected on the theme of God’s good during the outdoor gathering, held on the DeBoover farm in Stanley, Ontario County. The evening concluded with a rosary for Hurricane Katrina victims and a bonfire.
“People forget about God’s goodness and blame God for things that happen bad,” DeBoover said. “We talked about Katrina … it is not God’s plan to have people get killed like this. Then you see how other people are working as volunteers — helping, feeding, sheltering. That’s God.”