GARDEN CITY—Outreach to people who are in need, homeless, ill, or just lonely, is one of the most important parts of parish life.
Most efforts, however, don’t cross generational lines.
Adults tend to be involved in projects through their own organizations, while young people may volunteer with classmates, youth group members or Scouts.
MercyWorks, a ministry at St. Michael Church, takes a different approach to social outreach by uniting parents and children to help others.
Parishioner Laura Norton, a mother of six who volunteers extensively with the religious education program, founded the project. Norton said she has always been interested in ways to evangelize the entire family, and thought it would be good for them to practice corporal works of mercy, such as feeding the hungry and visiting the sick.
“We wanted to give parents and children a chance to work together so they’re practicing stewardship and discipleship side-by-side,” Norton said in an interview with The Miscellany.
“Young children can be introduced to social justice issues on a level that they understand. It’s wonderful to see it sink in with the children that there are needs out there. It’s great to see the kids feel capable that they can do something for others,” she said.
MercyWorks activities take place one Sunday a month during the school year after Masses and religion classes end. Most last between 90 minutes and two hours so it will be easier for families with young children to fit into their schedules, Norton said.
About 15 families are active members of the effort, but anyone can take part. The ministry is designed for children up to sixth grade.
Middle school students from the EDGE youth group at St. Michael volunteer as mentors and help the younger children with the projects.
During the 2009-2010 school year, volunteers took part in many events. They sang Christmas carols and delivered valentines at local senior centers and nursing homes, held a bake sale to raise money for a Guatemalan student they sponsor, and collected socks, underwear and school supplies for a program that helps needy foster children along the Grand Strand.
The families also prepared baked goods to include in Thanksgiving food baskets for families in need, and fixed dinner for the church’s pastor, Father Raymond J. Carlo, and parochial vicar, Father Andrew Trapp, to show appreciation for the work the priests do.
Father Carlo said MercyWorks is an important way for families to live out their faith in daily life.
“They can pray together, go to Mass together and then help the needy together,” he said. “This helps them to make their faith a priority. It strengthens the family as a unit, and the faith of the individual members.
“Laura’s program is a great example of lay ministry in action,” the priest said.
Sally Young, a mother of three, likes the program because the activities are planned with busy families in mind.
“You want to get involved in service projects, but with children it’s not always that easy,” she said. “The MercyWorks projects are designed for a family schedule, and they really help kids realize the importance of helping others who might not have the benefits or advantages they do.”
Young said the children learn that there are people with more than just material needs.
“The kids realize that the works we do are part of God’s plan for us,” she said.
Diana and Pat Pinter take part in MercyWorks with their granddaughter, Alexa Pinter, 11.
“Now that our four children are grown, we decided to mentor Alexa and show her how to really profess her faith,” Mrs. Pinter said. “We wanted to take our faith and make it feel more real, more alive than mere words every Sunday.”
Mrs. Pinter is impressed with the projects, and said MercyWorks also offers important opportunities for the families to meet other members of the large parish.
Alexa especially enjoys visiting the elderly.
“Every elderly man and woman I have talked to through MercyWorks will always hold a special place in my heart,” she said. “They don’t get visitors every day, and they will tell you they’re so happy to have someone visit. Doing MercyWorks is very special to me.”
MercyWorks will resume in the fall. For more information about the program, call (843) 651-3737.