Summer vacation is a time reserved for strolling, swimming and all-around goofing off — unless you attend St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Hamlin.
From July 26-31, eight teenagers and 20 adults cleaned and organized the church attic; planted a parish garden; dug a drainage ditch on church property; and helped migrant farm workers put a tarp over their camp chapel.
The parishioners’ efforts were part of the mission “Zone Out,” so named because it took the Seton members outside their comfort zone, according to Cindy Lazzaro, the parish’s director of faith formation and youth ministry. The volunteers generally started working at 8 a.m., she said, and labored until 6 p.m.
“Our guiding Scripture was ‘Whatsoever you do to the least of my people, that, you do unto me,'” Lazzaro said, adding: “I hoped it would be so valuable an experience that what we started this one little week in July would grow and flourish into a community actively living faith in Christ.”
To that end, the Zone Out volunteers provided services to both their own parish and the wider community, she noted. For example, the volunteers emptied 20 years of storage from the church attic, she said. The volunteers cleaned, sorted, reboxed, recycled or threw out various items. The recycled items included toys that will eventually be given to area migrant children, as well as to the regional poor through the local ecumenical outreach ministry Life Solutions, she said. The volunteers also recycled toys to be used in a new parish nursery.
The volunteers also planted a garden they hope will bring forth radishes, spinach and beans this fall. Crops produced by the garden will be used by those who are in need, Lazzaro said.
“The teens learned to till and use a pitch fork and build up the soil,” she said, adding: “(Gardening) really made us appreciate the plight of our local farmers, the migrants and all those dependent on the soil for a livelihood.”
Jeanne Lauta and her husband, Frank, were among the adult Zone Out volunteers who were impressed by the teenagers’ commitment to the projects.
“They were just so warm and welcoming, and they got along fabulously, and they were absolutely willing to do anything,” Jeanne said.
The volunteers got their hands dirty digging a drainage ditch as well.
“Shovelful after shovelful of soaking, muddy sod,” Lazzaro said, describing the arduous digging process. “This ditch took everything we had. Everyone worked on it.”
The Zone Out participants learned from their mistakes, she added, noting they had to continue digging the ditch after thinking they had completed it and then realizing they needed it to be 3 inches deeper.
“I learned from the teens what having heart really means when they picked up their shovels … and said ‘Three more inches to go,'” Lazzaro said.
Finally, the Zone Out participants distributed eggs and milk to migrant farm workers at a camp in the Brockport area. The volunteers had learned about the migrants through discussions with a representative from the Diocese of Rochester’s Hispanic Migrant Ministry office in Brockport. The Zone Out volunteers also helped the migrants place a tarp over a building that was to serve as a chapel. After sharing a meal of chicken, rice and beans, the teenagers played with the migrant children, according to Lazzaro. Joanne Coriddi, 17, a Zone Out volunteer, said she particularly enjoyed visiting the migrant camp.
“It was nice to see the different cultures,” she said. “We couldn’t really communicate with (the migrants) because they spoke Spanish and we spoke English, but they smiled a lot, and you knew what they were smiling about. We were being sincere to them and helping them out, but we weren’t looking down on them, we were doing it as friends.”
Lazzaro particularly recalled the teenagers playing tag with the migrant children. Two of the children, named Leo and Miguel, extracted a promise from the Zone Out volunteers to return to the camp someday, she said. She added that the two boys rode their bicycles alongside the Zone Out volunteers’ vehicles as they made their way to the camp entrance to leave. The volunteers were deeply touched by the boys’ enthusiastic goodbye, she said.
“Everybody’s heart was in their throat.”