A large family returns home to find that work crews have erected a brand-new wooden swing set, inflatable pool and basketball hoop.
Numerous volunteers — including a 17-year-old girl who has recently battled cancer — do repairs and chores all over town.
Such stirring scenarios could qualify as story lines for make-over shows and the like. But these good works weren’t staged for television cameras. They were performed by young people who simply wished to assist those in need.
A first-time service retreat by All Saints Parish brought together some 65 teens. The event began June 27 and involved physical labor for several hours over each of the ensuing three days. Participants stayed overnight at Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Painted Post, where they also engaged in prayer and reflection. In addition, they fasted on bread and water for the final day of work. Parents, as well, offered their time by serving as chaperons and drivers.
Marie McCaig, youth minister at All Saints, said the retreat was created because “a lot of these kids are from affluent homes and they really have no idea how the other side lives. This would be a real eye-opening experience.” Mission accomplished: the labor was “very, very physically hard, very uncomfortable. But when they came back, they felt good about themselves,” McCaig observed.
Workers formed a total of 10 teams. Many were deployed to homes of elderly people whom McCaig had learned about through her contacts with the parish and Steuben County Office for the Aging. Chores included yard work, mopping, dusting, carpet cleaning, making beds — “just anything these senior citizens weren’t able to do anymore,” McCaig said. She added that another key component was for workers “to just sit and talk” with the homeowners.
Steven Dombrowski performed an array of duties during the retreat: weed whacking and tree removal on Tuesday; beautifying a nursing-home garden and visiting with residents whom he said “looked like they could use some company” on Wednesday; and painting on Thursday.
“The first day, it was really hot and the bugs were nasty. But it was definitely worth it because we get to see the people happy,” said Steven,15, who remembered one woman in particular: “She was so ecstatic that somebody cared. It gives you a real sense of accomplishment.”
Steven also enjoyed the work retreat’s social aspects.
“The first day, I was with no one I really knew. You end up working with them for all those hours, and you just become comfortable,” he said.
All of the All Saints worship sites — Immaculate Heart of Mary along with St. Mary’s and St. Vincent de Paul in Corning — were recipients of this effort that involved renovation and lawn care at the churches. Even St. Patrick’s Church, which closed in 2001, was included: there, many books belonging to Father Francis Davis, a retired priest for All Saints, were moved from the rectory to the church building where they will be picked up for donation.
“Now St. Patrick’s is full of books. It is unbelievable,” McCaig said, remarking that she hadn’t realized the extent of Father Davis’ collection.
The youth group did fundraising for materials and supplies, such as the items needed for a bench constructed at a local cemetery near the grave of a young man who committed suicide last year. Numerous materials were also required for the retreat’s most elaborate project — a backyard make-over, done over a two-day period for two parents and seven children who, according to McCaig, are tight on finances. The family was sent to a local hotel for two nights, with only the mother having an inkling of what was unfolding. By the time everyone returned home around lunch time on June 29, they were overwhelmed to find their yard filled with recreational items. One little boy became so excited, he jumped into the new pool with his clothes on.
“They were so happy, and the parents were so thankful. It was a great feeling to be able to give back to people who deserved it. Just seeing the smiles on their faces was rewarding enough for me,” said Theresa Coffey, who was among the volunteers who left their work sites during lunch break so they could witness the big surprise.
These days, Theresa has her own reasons to smile. She said she has “more energy than I’ve had in the past 10 months” following completion of several months of chemotherapy and radiation treatment for Hodgkins lymphoma, a cancer that she was diagnosed with last September.
“I was really happy to have enough strength to do the retreat. I am doing well now, and I am extremely thankful to be alive,” remarked Theresa, who assisted with painting each day. “Everything I am able to experience is extra-special. This experience was no different.”