Three young women from St. Michael’s Parish in Newark were recognized last October for their outstanding community-service efforts. Kristi Sargent, Colleen Zappia and Kayli McIlwain were among the approximately 800 teens honored with the diocesan Hands of Christ recognition.
Kristi’s faith is evident in the way she deals with her peers and others around her. She is opposed to abortion and has never been shy about sharing her views with her classmates, she said. In the months leading up to the 2004 presidential election, Kristi sometimes engaged in spontaneous debates with pro-choice classmates. Whenever she heard about a classmate who’d recently lost a loved one, Kristi would encourage the person to pray and let God help him or her through the ordeal. She said some people looked at her like she was crazy when she did this, while others appreciated the advice.
“I’ve had people come back and tell me that it helped them,” Kristi said. “When you pray you can talk about your feelings and you don’t have someone looking at you like you’re ridiculous.”
Kristi also steps in whenever she sees another student being bullied.
“I just try to tell the people who are bullying them to stop, and I help the other person to walk away and ignore it,” Kristi said. “When I was younger I used to be bullied, so I understand.”
Kristi’s compassion also extends to people outside her own age group. She has formed a close relationship with her 87-year-old neighbor, Agnes Kennison, and usually spends at least five hours each week helping her with household chores and errands. Although Kristi is busy with her own job at Wegman’s, she doesn’t consider time spent helping Kennison to be a sacrifice.
“She never had grandchildren, so she’s like an adopted grandmother (to me). It’s just nice having her in my company because she’s such a sweet lady and I love her to death,” Kristi said.
While her mother, Anita, was recovering from knee-replacement surgery last year, Kristi helped her clean the house and drove her around. When her mother felt depressed because she couldn’t go to work or exercise, Kristi would cheer her up, reminding Anita that the surgery had been good for her and she’d soon feel better.
Kristi, who will major in international studies at Niagara University this fall, hopes to one day work for human rights through the United Nations. While researching an African country for a Model U.N. project in high school, Kristi discovered the oppression and poverty faced by many Africans and is now committed to helping these people obtain a better life.
Even before Kristi knew she wanted to assist those in trouble across the globe, she knew she wanted to assist at Mass at her own parish. She became an altar server as a young girl, and two years ago she became an extraordinary minister of holy Communion. She has also participated in the parish’s Lenten re-enactment of the Stations of the Cross three times.
Colleen, who will attend Nazareth College in the fall, began serving her parish when she was in seventh grade. The year before that, someone had asked the parish’s sixth-graders if they would like to help out with the children’s liturgy.
“When I was little I went down to the children’s liturgy,” Colleen said. “When I was given the opportunity I decided I would help out with it.”
Colleen has also belonged to St. Michael’s youth group since she was a high-school freshman. Through the youth group she’s helped out at several soup kitchens and staffed a summer camp for inner-city children from Rochester, she said.
Colleen, who has worked for her family’s vending company since she was in eighth grade, also belonged to the Youth-To-Youth club at Newark High School. As a member of this club Colleen helped plan events encouraging students to stay away from drugs and alcohol and talked to elementary-school students about the importance of being drug-free. Colleen has also spent the last two summers helping children improve their writing skills during the local elementary school’s summer session.
“I like working with kids, and so I offered to help out. I like it a lot,” Colleen said.
Fellow Hands of Christ recipient Kayli also enjoys working with children and was involved with Little Reds Playschool, the preschool program held at Newark High School. While in high school she was also captain of the volleyball team, a member of the yearbook staff and participated in the school’s chorus and vocal-jazz group. She also has participated in several youth activities at her parish, attends Mass each Sunday and helps with the parish’s annual festival.
In her nomination letter, Kayli’s mother noted that faith is the center of Kayli’s life.
“Through all the hardships that she has endured in her lifetime, she truly believes that the Lord will give her the strength to make it through regardless of what comes her way,” Marlene McIlwain wrote.