As the pandemic passes the one-year mark, many are taking stock of COVID’s impact to date – and for one archdiocesan agency, some of that data adds up to thousands of reasons for hope.
To wrap up National Volunteer Week (April 18-24), Catholic Human Services (CHS) honored 25 “partners in mission” with an April 23 online celebration. The individuals represented 4,090 volunteers who provided a combined total of 95,911 service hours to the Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s charitable works in the five-county area during 2020.
Those efforts – channeled through the major CHS divisions of Catholic Social Services (CSS), Catholic Housing and Community Services (CHCS) and Nutritional Development Services (NDS) – have amounted to “lifesaving work” aiding persons of all ages, said Maritherese Mitchell, administrator of CSS’s Bucks County Family Service Center.
Mitchell cited Pat Rogers and Sonja Norton, who assist with the center’s food distribution, for their dedication and ability to “streamline operations.”
With Rogers as a volunteer leader and Norton coordinating food drives for the Mary’s Cupboard, the site’s pantry, the two have regularly spent “hours and hours and hours monthly” in assisting clients, said Mitchell.
“Sunny, rainy, cold or snowy, they are here to make sure that our communities are fed and that families have what they need,” she said.
Three of those recognized – Julie Gang, Bekka Mingioni and Emily Trasher — came to work with CHS through Notre Dame Mission Volunteer program, founded in 1992 by the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur and since 1995 a partner with AmeriCorps, the federal agency for national service and volunteerism.
Trasher “has just become essential” at CSS’s Casa del Carmen Preschool Academy, said director Shari Gold. “Every day she goes above and beyond, and we don’t want her to leave, ever. She’s become part of our Casa del Carmen family.”
For her part, Trasher said she has been “really grateful” for the opportunity, which enables her to focus on “helping one kid, one student” at a time.
“If I can do that at the end of the day, that’s me doing my part,” she said.
Volunteers themselves have found themselves transformed by their experiences.
Real estate professional Tim Conrey, who transported bulk food deliveries each week from partner agency Caring for Friends to several CSS sites, said “to say it became lifechanging would be an understatement.”
When the pandemic hit, Conrey wasn’t content with simply donating money to CSS, but contacted archdiocesan CHS secretary James Amato to offer hands-on support – eliciting “a lot of pushback” from loved ones concerned he might expose himself to COVID in the process.
“I had to change my clothes outside the house when I came home,” he recalled. “But my thought was … Jesus could have cured people from afar, but he didn’t. He walked among the people; he touched the people. As a Catholic, that’s what I was being called to do.”
CHS staff and volunteers provide much more than material assistance, he added.
“Hope doesn’t come in the form of a check, but in connecting with another person,” said Conrey, noting that the CHS team shows its clients “people care, and people will help them and treat them with dignity.”
Several CHS staff pointed out that volunteers routinely invested far more hours than expected in their projects.
Aida Hance, who provides both leadership and “motherly support” at the Bensalem-based Fatima Catholic Outreach Center, has “a big heart for service,” said CSS volunteer and community relations coordinator Estela Reyes-Bugg. “If the center is closed, I have to say to her, ‘It is your day off.’”
Summing up the reflections offered during the online recognition ceremony, Amato offered a number of his own.
“What a powerful 90 minutes,” he said.
Below is a complete list of those honored by archdiocesan Catholic Human Services during its April 23 recognition ceremony:
Catholic Social Services Bucks County Service Center – Mary’s Cupboard: Pat Rogers and Sonja Norton
Casa del Carmen Preschool Academy: Emily Trasher
Catholic Social Services Family Service Centers: Tim Conrey,
Catholic Social Services Immigration Legal Services: Kimberly Lauinger
Communities of Don Guanella and Divine Providence: Joanna Stearns
Fatima Catholic Outreach Center: Aida Hance, Bekka Mingioni
Catholic Social Services Montgomery County Family Service Center – Martha’s Choice Marketplace: Siter Anne Donnigan, R.S.M.; Tom and Betsy Nyman, Thom Mrazik
Catholic Social Services Mayfair Park Out-of-School Time Access Center: Julie Gang
Catholic Housing and Community Services – Nativity B.V.M. Senior Community Center: Dennis and Denise Mueller
Nutritional Development Services: Dr. Stephen J. Porth, Ella and Lucinda Weaver, Kris Van Hees
Project Rachel: Katie Vaughn
St. Edmond’s Home for Children: St. Aloysius Academy teacher Christopher Cooney and grades 5 and 6 students
St. John’s Hospice: Tom Fitzgerald, Laura Drake, Greg “Forty” Kilby
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