Teens gain inspiration from service work - Catholic Courier

Teens gain inspiration from service work

Engaging in service duty as a youth can have positive effects lasting into adulthood, as Zach David and Sara Woods will attest.

Both recent high-school graduates were among the approximately 800 recipients last fall of diocesan Hands of Christ awards, given annually to high-school seniors who display outstanding service in their church, school and community. Zach plans to continue volunteering this winter with a skiing program for people with disabilities, even though he’ll be attending college 200 miles away. And Sara said she’d like to pursue a people-oriented career, based on her enjoyment of service projects that involved visiting elderly people.

Zach, 18, is a member of Blessed Trinity/St. Patrick parishes in Tioga County. He said his appetite for volunteerism was sparked a few years back when he accompanied his brother, Kyle McCarthy, to Greek Peak Ski Resort in Cortland County where a Sunday-morning program for disabled skiers is held. Zach not only guided his brother, who has epilepsy, but he eventually began teaching other people facing mental and physical limitations — including a person with no legs. Zach said he is even able to carry on conversations with a skier who can’t talk.

“They’ve made me a better person, made me more rounded that I can relate to people like that,” said Zach, who has assisted his 24-year-old brother in special baseball and soccer programs as well. He said it’s easy for him to adjust to people with disabilities — more so than with peers who have no such limitations but don’t make full use of their talents: “Those are the people I don’t have patience for.”

The Newark Valley resident has also taken part in service projects through Blessed Trinity/St. Patrick’s, such as a youth-group trip to Philadelphia last summer to cook dinner for residents of Ronald McDonald House. The Ronald McDonald initiative provides temporary living space for families whose children are in hospitals.

Zach will soon begin studies at Medaille College in Buffalo, where he plans to major in visual and digital arts. He still plans to be on hand for his skiing buddies when the season starts up around January.

“I’m going to try and make it back each weekend,” he said, explaining, “You make a lot of friends and become really close. And that’s usually the only time of the year you get to see them.”

Meanwhile, Sara, a parishioner of St. Gabriel’s in Hammondsport, has derived long-lasting influence from her Girl Scout Silver Award project that lasted nearly a year, ending in the summer of 2001. She and another St. Gabriel’s parishioner, Becky Millard, made special visits once per month to homes of elderly women, bringing them meals, fruits and special treats at the holidays. Most importantly, the girls set at least an hour aside each time to visit.

“We decided we wanted to help people,” said Sara, 18, explaining that she preferred a social experience over other service-project options. She particularly enjoyed visiting with a woman who shared numerous historical photos of Hammondsport.

More recently, Sara has engaged in numerous volunteer activities through her youth group at St. Gabriel’s, with raking lawns for senior citizens ranking among her favorites. Sara said she has a special motivation for working with this segment of the population.

“One of my great-grandmothers was in a nursing home. She always told me she was really lonely, and that made me sad,” Sara said, adding that she’s been especially sensitive to seniors who have no family in the Hammondsport area.

Sara is about to begin her freshman year at James Madison University in Virginia. Her decision to major in communications and international relations — two fields that depend highly on interpersonal skills — can be traced back to her volunteerism of recent years.

“The youth group and Girl Scouts really got me interested in dealing with other people,” she said.

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