Teen volunteers fill vital roles - Catholic Courier
Spencerport’s St. John the Evangelist youth group member Marissa Zarpentine is pulled in different directions by 8-year-old Analiz James (left) and 7-year-old Heaven Adger (right) while volunteering at Cameron Community Ministries March 8. Spencerport’s St. John the Evangelist youth group member Marissa Zarpentine is pulled in different directions by 8-year-old Analiz James (left) and 7-year-old Heaven Adger (right) while volunteering at Cameron Community Ministries March 8.

Teen volunteers fill vital roles

ROCHESTER — Some serious spring fever was circulating through the playground area at Cameron Community Ministries March 8. As temperatures soared into the 60s, kids of all ages filled the balmy air with joyful shouts.

The older “kids,” in actuality, were six teens and four adults from St. John the Evangelist Parish in Spencerport. Much to the delight of the neighborhood children they came to visit, St. John volunteers enthusiastically took part in such games as tag and tic-tac-toe while also honoring requests for a push on the swing and guidance on other playground equipment.

Yet according to Liam Bailey, this type of interaction is much more than mere child’s play. He observed that young people who come to the Cameron facility find a refuge from the challenges of their inner-city environment.

“They don’t have a lot of opportunities. That’s what we’re here for, to help give them a good experience,” said Liam, 15, as he took a break from sprinting around the playground with his smaller tag-playing buddies.

St. John, which began its association with Cameron in January 2016, sends a group there every second Tuesday of the month. Following an hour or so of playtime, volunteers shift into the kitchen and dining area to prepare and serve dinner as part of Cameron’s “Kids’ Cafe.” For instance, on March 8 the Spencerport contingent served approximately 30 youths healthy hot meals featuring turkey and gravy.

Belinda Brasley, who coordinates youth ministry at St. John, said she designs volunteer activities for parish teens that are “not just service projects but connect them to the people.” She noted that for Mary’s Place — a refugee outreach at the former Holy Rosary Church in Rochester where parish youths assisted for about a year — parishioners made blankets and personally handed them to the refugees they’d gotten to know.

Cameron, an ecumenical outreach, is located on Rochester’s west side at 48 Cameron St., just off Lyell Avenue. There are approximately 40 children in the center’s after-school program, which caters to students in kindergarten through sixth grade who attend School 54 on nearby Otis Street. These children, along with walk-ins, are eligible for free dinner at the center Monday through Friday.

Brasley remarked that the only prerequisite she seeks from teens who wish to volunteer at Cameron is a willingness to bond with the youngsters.

“They don’t have to do anything big. They just have to be a friend,” she stated.

Which really is a big thing, according to Jennie Papkin, administrative assistant at Cameron.

“We love having teenagers involved. Youth accept youths much more than adults,” said Papkin, adding that she’s always looking for more parish youth groups to volunteer with the afterschool program as well in other ways, such as sorting clothes, assisting in Cameron’s food pantry and helping serve lunch. Papkin invites interested groups to visit facebook.com/cameronministries for more details.

As for the teens from St. John, Liam and Marissa Zarpentine said they realize the importance that their volunteerism carries with the Cameron kids, who by and large live in daily poverty.

“I feel like I’m really blessed to have what I have. They don’t really have role models in their life, and I can help them out. It feels good,” said Marissa, 15, who added that she’s enjoying the individual relationships she has begun to cultivate — “seeing kids’ personalities, seeing how I can work with them.”

Marissa appeared to be a natural at her volunteer role March 8, blowing kisses to several little children as she bade them good-bye. Meanwhile, Liam said it took him no time at all to click with the youngsters at the beginning of playground time.

“You know, I really am still a kid. It takes a kid to know a kid,” he reasoned, just before engaging in yet another game of tag.

Tags: Faith in Action
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