Katie Smith watched her mother, Rochelle, serving at the Volunteers of America home and began to see her in a new light.

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Lexi White and Amanda Ourso help out at the Shepherd’s Market, a project of Hope Ministries where low income people can obtain groceries. The girls are performing service work as part of the National Charity League, Inc.¬†Photo provided by Lisa Lewis

 

“My mom had so much patience with the ladies. It made me want to be that person” that she is, Katie Smith said.

Rochelle and Katie Smith are members of the National Charity League, Inc., a national service organization for young women and their mothers. The River Road Chapter in Baton Rouge has about 250 members, who serve the poor, the elderly and the handicapped, while forging a bond between moms and their daughters.

“A lot of times, as girls get older, the moms and daughters can have communication issues. NCL gives us an opportunity to talk and keep the lines open. This is our time together,” Rochelle Smith said. For example, Rochelle Smith said, volunteering at an event for battered women opened the door for her to speak to her daughter on the ride home about how to be safe while dating.

Lisa Lewis and her daughter, Emily, also participate in service projects through NCL. “Emily and I have our head-butting times. But NCL gives us something to work on together. It makes service so much more meaningful to share it,” Lisa Lewis said.

NCL members volunteer as mother/daughter teams at local charitable institutions such as the Bishop Ott shelters for men and for women and children, Cancer Services of Greater Baton Rouge, the Miracle League at Cypress Mounds for children with mental and physical disabilities, St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Stores and Volunteers of America locations.

The girls learn that it is not scary to work with people who are different, said Lisa Lewis, who is a member of Our Lady of Mercy Church in Baton Rouge.

Amanda Ourso, a parishioner of Most Blessed Sacrament Church in Baton Rouge, said she has learned through NCL that you don’t have to go to a foreign country to see poverty. You can come face-to-face with poverty right here in this community.

Alison Melancon volunteers at Shepherd’s Market, a project of Hope Ministries of Baton Rouge, which serves low-income individuals in the area around St. Jude Church on Highland Road in Baton Rouge. “It’s such a nice neighborhood, but so many people come to get food. And they are so grateful. My mom and I joked, ‘I got blessed seven times today’ by people who were thankful.”

Katie Smith relays a story about a woman who received Thanksgiving turkey for the first time. After distributing 75 turkeys, a lady came up to the girls and told them she had never had a whole turkey for Thanksgiving. “I hugged her and started to cry,” said Katie Smith, a parishioner of St. Jean Vianney Church in Baton Rouge.

These four girls, all seniors at St. Joseph’s Academy, joined the National Charity League in seventh grade and have performed many hours of service in the past six years. As seniors, they will be moving on from the organization, but not from the spirit of service that has been instilled in them.

“NCL got me to want to be a server,” Ourso said.

“I just can’t give it up,” Katie Smith echoed.

Ourso said her service with NCL even helped her decide on a college major.

One day while she was working at the Westmoreland House for the elderly, her boyfriend came and played the piano for the residents. One lady who had cerebral palsy wheeled herself right up to the piano. Ourso said after seeing how this woman truly enjoyed the music, she began to research the effect of music on people. Since then she has decided to major in music therapy and speech pathology in college.

Melancon said NCL has helped her mature. She explained that at the end of sixth grade, she was still a little kid and certainly not thinking about homelessness and poverty. The idea of the poor and the disabled scared her, but as she volunteered in the community, Melancon began to appreciate that people with disabilities are just people. At one Cancer Services event, she said a young boy who had lost his hair thanked her for not “looking at me all weird.”

Emily Lewis, a parishioner of Our Lady of Mercy Church in Baton Rouge, said she enjoyed working with the Miracle League, a baseball program for children with disabilities. She said she had to roll one child around in a wheelchair to help her play and to avoid getting hit by a ball. “We played together and when it was over, she told me ‘Emily, I really like this game.’ I didn’t think she had gotten anything out of it, but she enjoyed what little she could do. It made a difference to her.”

The girls encourage others to get involved with the NCL. Although they are required to perform service in high school, they said they do service with NCL because they want to.

NCL works with about 25 philanthropies in the Baton Rouge area. Members can attend any school in the area, but should have a sponsor to join. Individuals interested in joining NCL can go the website nationalchar ityleague.org or the local website nclriverroad.org.