But the Lord said to me, "Do not say, 'I am only a youth'; for to all to whom I send you, you shall go, and whatever I command you, you shall speak." (Jeremiah 1:7)
Austin Timermanis, a young member of St. Mary's parish, recalls volunteering his time at an assisted-living center in Mahtomedi during the annual Summer Blast event. He sat for two hours talking with an old man--a war veteran. Austin could tell that he and the man had made a "strong connection," and that his visit had made his new friend very happy. That made Austin happy, too.
Austin's story is just one of many from our teen parishioners who have given their time and talents in service to the church and the community. Their stories and reflections help to demonstrate that service is at the heart of St. Mary of the Lake's mission as a parish, and the youth are taking a significant role. Though they give generously, Austin Timermanis and two other St. Mary's teens, Veronica Waalk and Annikki Neubeck, say that they have received so much more in personal satisfaction, and they encourage their fellow youth to get involved as well.
Austin is a 16-year-old junior at White Bear Lake Area High School. He keeps very busy at school, with involvement in football, baseball, Chemistry Club, Link Crew, and Ambassadors, and yet he still finds time for community service in the form of Summer Blast, the annual multi-parish event in which groups of teens go into the larger
|Austin (center) plays mini golf with other Summer BLASTers at a fellowship site.
ommunity to serve those in need (while also taking some time for
fellowship and recreational activities like Valleyfair).
Helping others has helped Austin as well. He says, "It makes me a better person. I have a lot of good things in my life, and I'm helping those less fortunate."
His advice for other young people: "Get involved in service. Take every opportunity. Service makes you a better person."
Veronica Waalk, a 17-year-old junior at White Bear Lake Area High School, is heavily involved behind-the-scenes of high school theatre. She is a techie, running cues on a sound board for school musicals and plays.
As for church-based service, Veronica looks back on the various ways she has made a contribution to St. Mary's and the larger community. "I was one of Fr. Talbot's first servers. I helped him out nearly every Saturday at the 5:00 PM Mass.
A long-time server, Veronica was in demand during special Masses that required more experience and knowledge. Easter Vigil, with its lighting of the "new fire" and all the candle activity that goes with it, is her personal favorite.
Veronica recalls a bit of wisdom passed along to her from some senior citizens while she was volunteering at Cerenity Care Center. "Everyone at my table of ladies was wishing things. I said, 'I wish I were eighteen.' Immediately everyone said things like 'Oh, honey, don't wish your life away!' I learned that they're right. If I hadn't had that experience, I wouldn't appreciate living in the now as much as I do."
|Veronica (top right) poses with her crew.
More recently, Veronica has been involved with the annual Workcamp trip. Each year, a group of St. Mary's teens and adults goes to another state where residents are in need of assistance. While there, they build, paint, repair, and do whatever is needed so that people in unfortunate circumstances can have improved living conditions.
Helping to fix someone's home is only the beginning, says Veronica. "You meet people from all walks of life. It's a very humbling experience when people open up and describe what they've been through. It's sad, but it's inspiring. Here we are--we're meant to be here, we're meant to help you, and I'm glad we are."
Veronica points out how she has benefited from serving others: "It has made me a patient, understanding person. You recognize that everyone has been through something which has affected each individual in its own way."
"It's okay to want to help people; it's even better if you do it. If you don't know how to get started, ask a teacher! Ask Fr. Talbot! Join Workcamp! It's important to volunteer because it shapes you into a better person. Plus, it's loads of fun when you do it with friends."
Annikki Neubeck, 16, attends Mahtomedi High School, where she is a junior. She's quite involved in school sports as a gymnast and diver. She also coaches middle school gymnastics and manages the varsity baseball team. Still, she makes time to volunteer in numerous ways. Annikki has been a server and roadie at Masses, and she currently helps with childcare in the Faith Formation program and participates in Workcamp.
"As a Workcamper, I have met so many kind and compassionate kids who have donated time and money to give back to the communities we visit," says Annikki, adding that the people they help "have shown me the most compassion by welcoming me and thanking me for just helping. The children and elderly I've helped have cared and shown me more compassion than I could ever imagine."
|Annikki poses with the resident of the house where she built a ramp.
Annikki carries a particularly vivid memory of an elderly gentleman named Willy from her second Workcamp. Willy's wife had recently died, and his son had suffered a stroke. "He explained that for our service project, we were building a wheelchair ramp for his son, for it was the only way his son could get into the house. At that moment, I realized all of this was bigger than I could imagine, and I was so honored to be helping out such a wonderful man."
As for how her service has affected her personally, Annikki, points out numerous examples. "I have learned that everyone has a story, so we should show kindness to all. I have also learned that every little thing helps. No matter how insignificant you think it is, it could mean the world to someone else."
Austin, Veronica and Annikki are just three of many young St. Mary's members who put their faith in action through acts of service. Their contributions are significant, but there is always more to do, and room for more to get involved. To young fellow parishioners, Annikki's advice on service is straightforward: "Just do it. It may be scary and intimidating at first, but the reward of seeing a project through and the happiness it can bring to another person is all worth it in the end. Just participate; it really makes a difference!"