Categories: Regional
      Date: Dec 23, 2012
     Title: Religious education students raise money, hope for refugee family



(Photo courtesy of Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish) 

By Rebecca Drake

SPRINGFIELD – A group of teenagers from Granby spent a recent Saturday shopping for dresses, winter jackets and boots, hats and gloves, socks, comforters and blankets. Then they got together for a pizza supper.

But this was no ordinary day of Christmas shopping. The gifts they bought would not be given to family members and friends, but to a family of refugees they have never met.

The eighth and ninth grade religious education students at Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Granby chose to participate in the Sponsor a Family for Christmas program coordinated by the Catholic Charities Agency of the Springfield Diocese. The program matches donor families with recipient families who do not have the means to purchase Christmas presents this year.

“We wanted the students to take ownership of the project and to put their faith in action,” said eighth-grade catechist Stephen Kajka. He explained that the students signed an “Advent Covenant” in which they pledged to earn money by completing tasks at home and being paid by their parents or guardians.

“Christians focus on Advent as a season of hope, but a lot of families don’t have that hope,” said Kajka.

But the students enthusiastically embraced the Sponsor a Family for Christmas project, he said, raising nearly $500 to bring hope to a Bhutanese family that spent 18 years living in a refugee camp in Nepal. The two children in the family, ages 6 and 12, were born in the refugee camp, where malnutrition and disease were rampant. The refugees were also subject to controlled movement and restricted work opportunities, as well as limited access to the local justice system.

Through the efforts of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and in cooperation with countries such as the U.S., the Bhutanese family was allowed to enter the U.S. in 2010. As they continue to struggle economically in a new country, they will be blessed with $398 worth of needed items and a $100 gift card from the religious education “family” at Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish.

                                        (Photo by Rebecca Drake)

A total of 34 families received aid through the Sponsor a Family for Christmas program this year, according to Laura Saponare, Catholic Charities’ social service coordinator.

“So many caring families, parish groups, and individuals participated in our Catholic Charities Sponsor a Family for Christmas project this year,” said Kathryn Buckley-Brawner, director of the local Catholic Charities Agency (pictured, right, in photo at right, with Saponare, left, and Kajka, center). 

“It was particularly wonderful that religious education students were involved in this special outreach,” Buckley-Brawner said. “The eighth and ninth grade classes at Immaculate Heart of Mary pooled their time, talent and treasure to sponsor one of our refugee families for Christmas.  

“What an excellent way for our youth to experience the spirit of Christmas giving,” she said. “A special thanks to them and their catechist for their thoughtfulness and generosity."