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If there is a recipe for raising good, compassionate, hard working, caring kids, Jeanette Haligowski may have the secret ingredient….getting them involved from an early age in the Life Ministry, the Junior Youth Group and Senior Youth Group at the Nativity of Our Lord Church in Monroe.

Jeanette has been planning, organizing, coordinating and providing life lessons for approximately 20 teens in her Senior Youth Group for more than five years. She works hard putting in 20 plus volunteer hours per week sending out emails, updating the Facebook page, transporting kids to various events, making contacts, organizing parent volunteers and providing meaningful, life changing experiences for young people.   Volunteering at the Rise Food Pantry is an experience for which Jeanette has no shortage of volunteers. This time around, volunteers included parent, Diane Pietrulewicz and her daughter, Tara Pietrulewicz, Joanna and Hank Haligowski and Gary and Gabrielle Fernicola. Jeanette enjoys booking volunteer days at Rise because “Rise gets to the core of the community’s needs and reaches out to so many different people. The kids get to see the needs of their local communities not just the needs of those in faraway places. They get to help their community here and now.”

Jeanette is so happy that Rise is a safe, organized, comfortable place for her teens to volunteer.

Some of the tasks the volunteers perform at Rise Food Pantry include picking up food from donor organizations, loading and unloading trucks, sorting, shelving, organizing, bagging and distributing food while contributing positive attitudes, youthful exuberance and all around good cheer. Over the years these multi-talented teens have participated other outreach activities such as the Relay for Life, bake sales, craft shows, putting together hygiene bags and conducting fundraisers for Ronald McDonald House, working at the Rise Thrift Shop, coaching younger athletes, tutoring students, visiting nursing homes, setting up Christmas parties and gift collections. Tara explains that she loves working one to one with people. Joanna says, “The whole experience makes you mindful of other people’s feelings. We’re only doing something simple. You think it is no big deal, but people are so appreciative of us.” “Being Catholic means being in the service of others,” says Gary. Gabrielle was inspired to do more for others because she observed the positive impact that her kindness and patience had on her ailing grandfather. “I knew I had influenced him. He was so appreciative. That made me want to help others in the same kind of way.”

Volunteering is a tradition in these families.

According to Jeanette, “Church is a part of our social life and, from the very beginning starting with the Family Life Ministry all the way up through the Junior, then Senior Life Groups, a foundation of community awareness is laid down. We’re letting God’s will work through us. We’re doing what our faith calls us to do.” Independently, Joanna, Tara, Gabriella, Hank and Gary each said they do it because “volunteering with friends is fun!” Joanna says “Volunteering makes you feel like you’re part of something bigger than yourself. Besides when you’re with your friends, it doesn’t feel like work.” Gary says “Volunteering even just a few hours makes you feel good. There’s a massive amount of work and we’re happy to help.” Gabriella thinks, “Volunteering is important because it helps me to understand there are other less fortunate people in the world.” “Volunteering just makes me happy!” says Tara.

These teens have had great role models in their lives (part of the secret ingredients!). Jeanette’s kids have seen her and their grandmother give their time and talents freely to their church and community. Mark and Gary’s dads are volunteer firefighters and Mark is following in his dad’s footsteps. Tara’s brother is serving his country in the military and Diane is a volunteer parent with the Senior Youth Group.

 

If you’re wondering if volunteerism has taught these teens anything, here’s what they say they’ve learned:

 

Gabrielle: “Live to be your best and help others. It will make you happy to know you’re doing something good.”

Hank: “Expect nothing in return just be glad to help someone.”

Gary: “Have empathy toward others because you can’t be in someone else’s shoes. Try to appreciate the privileges you have been granted. Be happy to help.”

Joanna: “Seeing the smiles and happiness you can bring to others is uplifting. Be grateful.”

Tara: “I am so thankful for my life. I want to give back when I can. I’m amazed at how grateful the people we help are.”

Jeanette sums it all up by saying, “Be willing to share your time and talents. Be socially conscious and aware of people’s needs. Reach out to make others feel cared for and noticed. Do what you can, when you can. Every little bit helps!”

All parents have to create their own family recipes for caring kids, but having great role models and being great role models are key ingredients. Add strong religious values, a pinch of empathy, a tad of gratefulness and a large measure of good cheer to complete your basic ingredients.

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