Young girls in the Auburn area now have a new way to volunteer in their community and bond with other Catholics their age. Debbi Lovell and her daughter, Mary, recently organized a local court of the Junior Catholic Daughters of the Americas.
In the spring of 2003, both Debbi and Mary joined Auburn Court No. 263 of the Catholic Daughters of the Americas. Shortly after they joined, they were approached by their court’s regent, Marian Cool, and asked to develop a junior court for the region, which they agreed to do.
The CDA was founded in Utica, N.Y., in 1903 by the Knights of Columbus, and has grown since then to include courts in 42 states and several other countries. Catholic women over the age of 18 are invited to join the CDA. The junior CDA program was founded in 1925 and is open to girls between the ages of 6 and 18.
The junior CDA program was strong until the 1980s, when it began to wane, Debbi said.
“Recently, though, all courts were asked to restart the program … and after an appeal from our own state JCDA youth chairperson, Joyce Senkiew, in our state newsletter, The Rising Dawn, interest in the JCDA program in New York state has been rekindled within some of our courts,” she said.
Debbi and Mary spent months brainstorming and learning more about both the CDA and the junior CDA, and began recruiting for junior CDA Court Ave Maria, Auburn No. 263 in March 2004. Debbi designed a flier and brought it to local Catholic schools and religious-education classes for distribution. The flier was also inserted into weekly bulletins at the parishes that Debbi attends, St. Mary’s and St. Francis of Assisi in Auburn.
Debbi and Mary also arranged for information on the new court to run on their local Adelphia Cable Info Channel, and adult members of the CDA brought information packets about the new junior court home to their families. The Lovells did some in-person recruiting at St. Mary’s the weekend after Easter and kept busy designing and making the new court’s banner and the sashes for each member.
Debbi has devoted many hours to preparing for the new court, but feels that her time has been well spent. Having the chance to join the junior CDA is an exceptional opportunity for young girls, she said.
“They will have the opportunity to express themselves on current youth issues, learn to work unselfishly for the good of others, grow spiritually, develop their creativity and especially to grow as a whole person. I hope I can help the girls to achieve these things, and have great fun doing it. I hope that they will take with them a feeling of self-worth and accomplishment, and the warmth of Christ’s precious love,” Debbi said.
During a special liturgy at St. Francis of Assisi Parish June 24, New York State Regent Helene Shepard inducted eight girls into the newly formed Court Ave Maria, Auburn No. 263. A reception was held afterwards, during which the new members and officials signed as charter members and ratified the court charter.
The new recruits had previously elected officers during a meeting in mid-May, selecting 16-year-old Jessica Pattington for president, 10-year-old Amanda Balcom for vice president, 10-year-old Mary Caite Sierzenga for secretary and 7-year-old Cierra Axton for treasurer. At the meeting, the new members were also given a questionnaire listing different potential activities and projects. The results of this questionnaire will be used as a guideline to help determine what the girls are interested in and what activities the court will take part in, Debbi said.
Debbi and Mary plan on involving the girls in charitable works, such as sending cards and prayers to shut-ins and the elderly in hospitals and nursing homes. One of their first priorities is helping the members bond with one another, and the Lovells hope their first activity — dubbed Faith and Friendship by Firelight — will do just that.
“I’ll build a fire in my fire pit, then we’ll toast some marshmallows, make some s’mores, play some campfire games, maybe see if my son or Father Steve (Lape, the court’s youth chaplain) will play guitar for us, and hopefully by the end of the evening, we’ll grow closer to one another and to God,” Debbi said.
Cierra, the newly elected treasurer, said the campfire activity is one of the things she’s most excited about so far. She’s also looking forward to her duties as treasurer, which include keeping track of the group’s money and at each meeting letting members know how much there is, she said. Cierra asked her mother if she could join the junior CDA after she was handed a recruitment flier after Mass one morning at St. Mary’s Parish.
“I thought it would be fun to volunteer,” said Cierra, whose great-grandmother was involved in the CDA.
Jessica, the court’s president, said she decided to join the junior CDA because it sounded like something she would enjoy.
“I’m involved in my parish’s youth group and I volunteer at my church, and Debbi said that the JCDA would be kind of like a youth group, and we would be volunteering, so it sounded like stuff I normally do,” Jessica said. “In the upcoming year, we hope to recruit many more girls for the JCDA.”