Twenty-two youth-group members from St. Patrick Parish in Victor took a crash course in gardening Aug. 31, when they visited the home of Victor resident Dolores Fanton.
Fanton, who was diagnosed with cancer in 1994, is a master gardener, said friend Angela Fisher, whose daughter, Julianna, belongs to St. Patrick’s youth group. Fanton, her husband and two sons recently moved into a new home in Victor. They’d had all Fanton’s plants transplanted from her old yard and stored in a nursery until the new house was ready for the family, she said.
Recently Fanton’s cancer returned, however, and her chemotherapy treatments have left her unable to complete all the yardwork and gardening she’d originally planned on doing.
“She had all these wonderful plants ready to be planted, but not the energy to do it,” Fisher recalled.
Fisher brought Fanton’s plight to the attention of Lori Cunliffe, youth and parish-life coordinator at St. Patrick, and asked if the youth-group members might be interested in a service project. As it so happened, Cunliffe had been looking for more service opportunities to offer the teens since July, when 14 teens and adults participated in a Catholic work camp in Appalachia.
“It was a fantastic trip. We reroofed a house with a very steep pitch on it, we took down and rebuilt a porch. We were helping to renovate low-income housing. Some of the kids went to a nursing home, and some helped clean the home of a woman who was going to lose her kids if she didn’t clean her home,” Cunliffe said.
Since the work camp was Catholic, the Victor group was able to participate in some prayer services and faith-enriching activities.
“You really feel like you got more than you gave, because that’s the nature of a service project. It was really just a beautiful thing,” she said.
After returning to Victor, the participating teens told Cunliffe that not only did they want to go back to Appalachia next July, but they also wanted to take part in more service activities closer to home, she said.
The teens responded enthusiastically when Cunliffe proposed the idea of the “Extreme Garden Makeover”-style project. Cunliffe said she’d expected about eight kids to sign up, and was ecstatic when 22 did so. They arrived at Fanton’s house at 8 a.m. Aug. 31, and although they were not all skilled gardeners, they were eager to learn and ready to work.
“When we got there we started with a prayer, thanking God for the day and allowing us to be there and thanking God for allowing us to learn and grow,” Cunliffe said.
The youth-group members and adult volunteers split up into groups and worked on various sections of the yard. Some planted, weeded and edged gardens while others watered plants and put down mulch. Still others planted daylilies along the length of the driveway, Cunliffe said.
Fifteen-year-old Sara Shawe was one of the people on the mulching crew.
“We hauled mulch and put it around the flowers. It involves pitchforks and hauling,” Sara said. “It’s definitely some of the heavier work, but you get into a rhythm and it doesn’t seem like work when you’re helping someone.”
Sara said she volunteered to help out that day because the garden project seemed like a natural fit for her.
“The woman that we did the gardening project for is the mother of a friend of mine. My mom is very into gardening, so it was very close to home,” she said.
Twelve-year-old Carolyn Seiter said she and her sister, Emily, decided to work on the garden project because they like helping other people. Besides, she said, they knew the other people going, it sounded like fun and they had nothing else planned for that day.
“Volunteer projects are very nice because you get to help people. It’s always fun to help other people,” added Emily, 13.
Carolyn and Emily hadn’t done much gardening before, but they enjoyed learning a few tips from the more experienced gardeners among them that day, Emily said.
“If you put cardboard down before you put the soil and mulch down, it keeps the weeds from growing,” she said, sharing one of the nuggets of wisdom she’d learned.
Carolyn said she was glad to help the Fanton family because they were so nice, and she had a good time working with her friends.
“It was really fun. You get to meet a lot of people that you knew were in your parish but you didn’t know very well,” she said.
Sara also enjoyed working with her friends in the garden for a good cause.
“I really feel good inside helping people who need it or will get pleasure out of what we do for them,” Sara said. “It really just gives me a good feeling inside (knowing) that I’ve helped someone.”
Even though the crew worked until noon, there was still a lot of work left to be done after they left, Cunliffe said. Nonetheless, she was pleased with the group’s progress.
“We got some things done so when (Fanton) looks off her porch, I think she’ll be pleased,” she said.”They just did a great job. They represented St. Patrick’s so proudly.”
Fisher said she was impressed by how many teens volunteered to work. It’s important for young people to realize — as the St. Patrick teens seem to — that you don’t have to travel far away in order to make a difference.
“Not everyone wants to or can go save Ethiopia, but we can save some daylilies right here in Victor,” she said.