Jul 24, 2014

Local teens participate in national Catholic service program



(Photo by Julie Beaulieu)

By Julie Beaulieu

LUDLOW – Teens from the Springfield Diocese and throughout the Northeast combined Catholic social teaching with community servicelast week in the Just 5 Days sleepover camp.

Just 5 Days is a national program model in which teams of middle school youth and their adult chaperones spend five days learning about Catholic social teaching while spending three of those days in direct service to organizations in the area. The Springfield Diocese’s fifth annual Just 5 Days camp was based out of St. Elizabeth Parish in Ludlow, where the teens ate, slept, prayed and reflected from July 14 through July 18.

Jim Flanagan, the Just 5 Days project director, travels from the Greater Boston Area each year.

“They’re working at Head Starts (childcare) in the area,” said Flanagan. “They are also working with soup kitchens, food pantries and clothing boutiques. That’s where most of the work is that they’re doing. They are working in indirect service and direct service.”

“For them, it’s a long day,” he continued. “They’re up at 7:30. Breakfast is at 8. At 9, we do an opening prayer and a challenge. They work from 10 until 2:30 or 3. They can have a swim and shower. At 4:30, we do processing and kind of talk about the day.

“Then after dinner, there’s a two-hour program, which really takes a look at the Catholic social teachings of the church and the dignity of the human person,” explained Flanagan.

                                                            (Photo by Julie Beaulieu)

A group from St. Elizabeth Parish in Ludlow, of which many were students of St. John the Baptist School, did direct service at Kate’s Kitchen in Holyoke. Karen Blanchard, executive director of Providence Ministries in Holyoke, said volunteers are always needed at Kate’s Kitchen.

“We are so grateful for the kids to be here today because we have a lot of guests that have been coming to Kate’s Kitchen and the more hands that we have make it a lot easier to help serve the clients that are coming through the door,” said Blanchard. “Sometimes the summer is the busiest time we have because the kids are out of school and we’ve got a lot of kids that come for the noontime meal.”

“So, it varies depending on the time of the month. This time of the month we get around 150-175 (clients daily) towards the end of the month we can get well over 200 a day,” she said.

“It’s been five years since the kids have been coming here, and although it may be different kids every year, I think that they get a rich experience seeing how the program is run and how we serve the community,” added Blanchard.

Emily Gilbert, a recent graduate of St. John the Baptist School in Ludlow, said her favorite part of volunteering was, “helping the people and seeing them when we give them the stuff, their faces just light up.”

Gilbert added that there was also a downside. “Some of the stuff that people donated, like at the pantry, is expired,” she said. “The clothes have rips in them. It’s just sad to see that people think that they can donate that to people who don’t have as much money as them.”

Also working with this group, about to enter high school in the fall, was Ben Shaw (pictured in top photo).

“There are many people in this area who can’t afford to get meals every day and when they come in here, there’s no questions asked. They just come down and we serve them,” said Shaw, also a graduate of St. John the Baptist School.

Tim Saloil, age 14, is a veteran of the program and has participated in Just 5 Days all three years.

“I think my favorite was the Soldier’s Home in Holyoke,” Soloil said. “I got a really good feeling after helping them and there were some really cool people there that I got to meet.”

Saloil had some advice for other teens considering the program for next summer.

“It’s really fun to do and you get to meet people from all over the eastern United States, kids from Maryland and Minnesota, all over the place,” he said.

In fact, A youth group from Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Baltimore helped pack up groceries for clients at Lorraine’s Pantry in Chicopee. Their group leader, Steve Crum, told iobserve that Springfield Bishop Mitchell T. Rozanski was formerly the pastor of their parish.

(Photo courtesy of Sal Mollica)

Another site visited by the teens was the new Christina’s House (left), located on Madison Street in Springfield.

“Christina’s House is being developed for homeless women, or those at risk for homelessness, with their children,” said Linda Mumblo, president and founder.

Preteen boys, entering grade seven, also from St. Elizabeth Parish in Ludlow, helped work on the house and property. Sal Mollica was their group leader.

“The group here at Christina’s House was working on various tasks of just helping organize the house as they are going to open shortly; so there’s a lot of things that required organization, cleaning, painting, as well as overall yard work,” said Mollica.

Other sites visited were the Survival Center in Indian Orchard, three local Head Start Centers, and the Western Mass. Food Bank.

Other parishes that participated included St. Elizabeth of Hungary from Acton, Mass., and St. Anne/St. Patrick from Fiskdale, Mass.

For more information about the national program, log on to www.just5days.org

A video segment on the Just 5 Days program, along with other faith-based summer activities for local youth, will be featured on an upcoming edition of “Real to Reel,” which airs Saturday evenings at 7 on WWLP-22NEWS.