By Debbie Shelley

The Catholic Commentator 

“We are made for greatness” was the mantra of youth who worked, played, prayed and evangelized in the Inspirational Service Camp June 25 – 29. 

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Youth prepare and served food at the soup kitchen run by the Missionaries of Charity at St. Agnes Church in Baton Rouge. Photos provided by Peggy Champagne | Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Maringouin, St. Frances Xavier Cabrini Church in Livonia and St. Joseph Church in Grosse Tete

 

Youth from the cluster parishes of Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Maringouin, St. Frances Xavier Cabrini in Livonia and St. Joseph Church in Grosse Tete spent time ministering to the people in the Greater Baton Rouge area during the service camp. 

To help the youth better relate to the circumstances of the people they served and to bond with each other, they went without luxuries, said Peggy Champagne, youth director of the cluster parishes. 

“Food was limited, they slept on the hard floors, there were no electronics and they bathed out of a bucket with cold water,” said Champagne. “Just a small touch of what the homeless deal with on a daily basis.”

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A visit to St. Joseph Abbey in St. Benedict inspired youth in their prayer life.

 

Doing without increased youth Abigail LeBlanc’s desire to volunteer and count her blessings rather than difficulties. 

“The biggest challenge of the camp is getting a small taste of how many people must live due to their financial situation,” said LeBlanc. “What we did is nothing compared to what many have to do daily without an option to just go back to what they have outside of a (service) camp. It is hard to know that so many people are going through this. It definitely pushes me to try and make more of a difference.”

The young Catholics showed up with energy and determination to complete their tasks at the distribution warehouse off Plank Road. 

“They completed a lot of work in a short amount of time,” said Lucille Cox, director of distribution and stores at St. Vincent de Paul. “What they did was a tremendous help to those in need and the homeless. They were focused on doing what needed to be done for the greater good.” 

Working in the community helped youth see that faith beyond the pew is important, according to participant Leah Bazzelle. 

“The camp has reinforced that being religious is not just about going to Mass,” said Bazzelle. “A religious life is more about helping those who are less fortunate than it is about praying every hour.” 

As they worked and spent time with those in need, they bolstered the spirits of people, said Charmaine Juneau, activity director at Lakeview Manor Nursing Home in New Roads. 

“They all had positive attitudes, they helped the residents one-on-one and it enlightened their hearts,” said Juneau. “A lot of residents don’t have family members that come in on a regular basis, so to have the youth spend time with them was special to them.” 

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Youth worked in the yard to help the elderly and homebound.

 

Brenda Matherne of Maringouin, who is a retired secretary from Immaculate Heart of Mary, spoke of the playfulness of the youth as they worked in the yard, cleaned and painted around her home. 

“It’s an inspiration to see the young kids saying, ‘What else can I do?’ ” said Matherne, who ate lunch and watermelon with the youth during their breaks. “They do a fantastic job. They did a lot of things I would like to do but (because of age) I can’t. 

“I’ve gotten to know them and they are like my grandchildren.” 

The campers and the people they served mutually benefited as the youth made people’s lives better and the youth saw the joy and thankfulness of the people they helped. 

“Every place that we went and helped the people were extremely grateful,” said LeBlanc’s sister, Kathryn. “That isn’t always the case, and it’s nice to see that what we were doing truly was making a difference to many people.” 

Bazzelle’s sister, Emily, agreed. 

“One of the most memorable moments of the service camp for me was when we went to LaCour House (Assisted Living facility) on the last day,” Emily said. “We played bingo with the residents there and I had so much fun interacting with them and some of the workers there. Because of this camp, I am thinking of applying at the LaCour House this August.” 

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Cleaning at the St. Agnes Soup Kitchen and homeless shelter was a way camp participants served the needy and homeless.

 

The youth also visited Magnolia Community Services in New Orleans, and talked with, gardened and worked out with people with disabilities. 

“Some people have never been around this population working hands on. They were able to see that they are not that much different than anyone else,” said Mary McDuff, activity director and volunteer coordinator at Magnolia. 

Additionally, the youth heard about opportunities to learn skills that can help them save lives during medical emergencies, such as providing CPR, “stopping the bleed” or as a volunteer emergency responder. During their visit to the fire station on Lobdell Avenue in Baton Rouge, youth spent an afternoon learning to handle a fire hose, wearing fire fighter outfits and gear and riding in a fire truck. What was originally scheduled as a one-hour visit turned into three, said fire chief Tim Crockett. 

“They were inquisitive, nice and strong in their faith,” said Crockett, who talked to the youth about their goals in life and beliefs. 

One of the favorite parts of the camp for the youth was nurturing their faith through different forms of nightly prayers and reflections, as well as a visit to St. Joseph Abbey in St. Benedict, said Champagne. 

Emily Bazzelle said, “When I first started doing this camp, I was a very shy and reserved girl, but now I am more open about my faith. One of my favorite things about this camp is that every night is a new form of prayer. We did adoration, St. Michael’s chaplet, and other prayers. At the end of the days, we also had prayer journals that we wrote in about our days, where we saw God that day, and when someone might have seen God in us.”

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The young Catholics efficiently sorted items at the Society of St. Vincent de Paul distribution center off Plank Road.

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Putting on a fresh coat of paint by youth service camp participants gave the homes of those in need a new look.