Patrick McPartland/Staff Photographer - Rachel Bailey, St. Stephen Church, Grand Island store boxes at Harvest House in Buffalo. Young Christians at Work is a volunteer program where young people spend part of their Easter break helping different charities throughout the Buffalo area.
During Holy Week, a group of teenagers learned of the ministry of Sister Karen Klimczak, SSJ, a woman who worked tirelessly to help former convicts make a life for themselves outside of prison.
While participating in Young Christians at Work, a weeklong service program sponsored by the diocesan Department of Youth and Young Adult Ministry, these teens spent a day at Bissonette House, a temporary residence for men recently released from prison, founded by Sister Karen. There, they did some yard work and unloaded food donated by one of the local pantries.
They also learned of the Peaceprints Ministry that Sister Karen started. Bissonette House provides a supportive living environment for non-violent ex-offenders. It offers a transitional program with limited case management counseling, support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous groups, and an anger management/domestic violence program.
Residents from Bissonette House explained the challenges faced by men after being released from prison, including discrimination from prospective employers and landlords. “I look at it as that’s their loss. That’s who I was, not who I am,” said one resident.
They also gave a tour of the facility.
Through the week, the young Christians also worked at Loaves & Fishes Soup Kitchen, Hispanics United of Buffalo, Try House and Vive La Casa, the largest refugee resettlement organization in the country, where they cleaned the halls and played with the children awaiting permanent residence in the United States or Canada.
“I never thought of the programs that I’ve experienced here,” said Katie Turner, a volunteer from St. Stephen Parish on Grand Island. “Yesterday, I went to Vive La Casa. They’re helping refugees get status and bring them into Canada. I never thought of that program before in my life, and didn’t know that program existed. It opened my eyes to how they are fleeing from their country, and how we’re helping them and how volunteers can help brighten up their day.”
Each day groups visit different worksites to get a well-rounded work experience and an education on the lives of the less fortunate.
“I feel it’s definitely important,” Turner said of taking the time to serve others. “I come from a very privileged household, and it’s my duty as a Catholic to give back to other people and help them out as God wants us to.”
Natalie Moulton, 15, from Our Lady of Mercy Parish in LeRoy, heard about the Young Christian program through her siblings who have attended in the past. They had valued their time volunteering and wanted their sister to have the same experience.
“It’s very educational and insightful,” she said. “It’s really interesting to see the other side of Buffalo. You always see the nice side and now we’re going to the third poorest town, and it’s interesting to see that.”
In the evenings the young volunteers bunk at Harvest House and enter into discussions about their experiences.
“We’re learning about the two feet of service, one being that you have to go out and the other being advocacy. So, definitely (we help) now in the sites and when we go home,” said Turner.
Teenager sets a high mark for altar servers
Youth group alerts Timon students to warlord in Africa