CHARLOTTE — The parish center of Holy Cross Church had every appearance of a five-star restaurant operation on Aug. 10. Some teens sliced onions at a dining table; others bustled in the kitchen; and a couple more tended to chicken breasts on an outdoor grill.
"Are we going to cook it slow? It””s good when you do chicken slow, nice and juicy," noted David DiPonzio, one of the young chefs.
Donna Jacobi, Holy Cross”” youth minister, reminded David and his coworkers that they were on a slightly tight schedule. This meal was not for their own eating pleasure, but was being served as a take-out order of sorts for patrons of the Ronald McDonald House across town.
David, 17, who has been part of similar Ronald McDonald House initiatives, said he recognizes the value of supporting people who stay temporarily at the facility while their children are treated at nearby hospitals.
"It””s sad, because you know what they””re going through. But it””s huge for them, even though you might think it””s a little thing," he said.
The Aug. 10 project was performed by Holy Cross”” softball-team members and marked one of the parish””s many youth-volunteer efforts. Other youth-volunteer projects during the year include fundraisers to support the parish and various charities; carving Halloween pumpkins for senior citizens; helping at the annual parish festival; serving as religious-education teachers and aides; and assisting with vacation Bible school where "we have almost more volunteers than participants," Jacobi remarked.
Sue Versluys, diocesan coordinator of youth ministry, said she encourages parishes to develop their own unique approaches to youth volunteerism. Another busy youth group in this regard is All Saints Parish in Corning, which held its annual R.O.C.K. (Reach Out in Christian Kindness) summer-service retreat in early July. Approximately 70 teens spent a week of visiting and providing free house repairs and chores for area residents.
Meanwhile, at All Saints Parish in Lansing, Tompkins County, teen members go far beyond their local boundaries. The youths have a long tradition of taking service trips to such locales as West Virginia, South Carolina and even Guatemala to aid the local poor.
The many potential paths to volunteer duty are acknowledged each year through the Hands of Christ awards, given to high-school seniors for outstanding service in their parishes, schools and communities. Last fall more than 700 plaques were issued by Bishop Matthew H. Clark during three Hands of Christ services. The awards represented such efforts as filling liturgical roles at church; serving as members of parish pastoral council; assisting people who are sick or disabled; working at soup kitchens and homeless shelters; volunteering at local fire and ambulance departments; raking leaves and shoveling snow for senior citizens; and bringing Communion to the homebound and spending social time with them.
This huge volume of honorees backs up Jacobi””s contention that young people are generally eager to volunteer, and come away with much more fulfillment than sitting at home watching television would have yielded.
"A lot of times at confirmation, you””re asked, ””What are your gifts?”” I think it (volunteering) makes them feel valuable, improves their self-worth," she observed.
David is on a service scholarship at Bishop Kearney High School that requires him to complete a certain amount of volunteer hours each year. But he stated that this is not his primary motive for being in almost more volunteer activities than he can count.
"I love helping out. I don””t think about the hours," David said, noting that his desire to volunteer follows the example set by his family.
"There””s people out there who need a lot of help. I plan to do this all through college, the rest of my life," he added.