Teens help parish rebuild


GARDEN CITY — Susan Starr, director of youth ministry at St. Michael Church, remembers last summer’s hurricane season very well.

“We watched and waited, just like they did,” as hurricane after hurricane slammed into Florida. “We know what it’s like to sit on pins and needles, watching storms progress.”

Hurricane Charley, a Category 4 storm, devastated the Port Charlotte area on Friday, Aug. 13. The hurricane entered South Carolina at Georgetown the next day, reduced to a Category 1 storm that passed through quickly.

Starr saw an opportunity to involve her Life Teen group in a service project. Father Ray Carlo, pastor at St. Michael, asked her to target one parish. She located three Life Teen parishes in Port Charlotte on an Internet search. She called the first parish on her list and was unable to connect. She called the second parish on her list and left a message for the youth minister. She waited nearly two weeks for a return call that never came. She had not yet contacted the third parish on her short list, St. Charles Borromeo.

Meanwhile, St. Michael was in the process of switching bulletin companies. Scott Messner, of Messner Publications, supplied them with bulletin samples from some of their other client parishes. In the stack of samples were three separate, eye-catching bulletins from St. Charles Borromeo. It was this coincidence that prompted Starr to make that last phone call.

She talked to the youth minister at St. Charles Borromeo, Patrick O’Toole, and learned that Hurricane Charley had done $4 million in damage to the parish. While the church itself was largely spared, the building housing their youth ministry was leveled, and their school lost its roof and most of the contents. Starr said, “This really affected their program because they had no place to meet.”

The Life Teen ministry focuses on connection between teens. The St. Michael Life Teens had connected with their peers at St. Charles Borromeo.

Starr and the core team brainstormed ideas to raise money. The parish youth usually serve a pancake breakfast every year around Veterans Day, but this idea was rejected because the average profit is between $500 and $600. Everybody wanted to send more money. Father Carlo suggested that the teens simply collect money.

One weekend, the teens at St. Michael staffed the church doors after all six Masses and collected more than $1,600. A check was mailed to St. Charles Borromeo in late November, and was applied to the rebuilding fund.

Starr was happy to learn that the St. Charles Borromeo group was finally able to meet again in November, even though they met in a gazebo and not in a building. The important thing is that they were meeting and that life was returning to normal.