Mercy in Action: Lake Providence Youth Pay It Forward to Community Members

When your youth group, your parish and your town are small in numbers, how do you put together a caring, creative mercy ministry?

“We were having one of our meetings at El Agave, a Mexican restaurant, last November when our youth decided to take up a collection to help out Miss Jessica, our waitress, whose child is legally blind,” explained Shelia Howard, Director of Youth Ministry at St. Patrick in Lake Providence.  “Miss Jessica knew everyone in the group and we’re a small town, so we knew what she was facing with her child.”

The idea hatched at that meal was to help out someone they all knew, but with a catch. “Ann Marie Walters is the spokesperson for our group.  She explained to Miss Jessica that they wanted to do something nice for her by collecting the money and that they hoped she would, in turn, do something nice for someone else.”

This pay-it-forward ministry is a very personal outreach since every one they help is well-known to the youth. Since helping Miss Jessica in November, the group has raised funds to help out two additional members of the community.

“We had a bake sale and silent auction to raise money to help with baby Harper’s heart surgery in Boston,” said Kiley Condrey, a member of the youth group. “We raised around $1,600 and presented the money to Miss Jamie at school.”

Jamie Clement, Harper’s mother, was a kindergarten teacher at Briarfield Academy.  The family incurred large medical bills when Clement had to move to Boston while pregnant so that Harper could have open heart surgery immediately after birth.  The baby needed a second surgery in July, again in Boston.  Although Clement resigned her position to care for Harper, members of the church stay in contact by following the family on social media as Harper continues to receive medical care.

The youth group is small but inclusive. Youth from other churches are welcome to participate and everyone knows everyone else, so an evening at El Agave or at the Howards’ home for a cook-out is comfortable for all.

When they get together for the fall cook-out at the Howards’ home, they should have some news about Derrick Arrington, the science teacher who was the third person to benefit from the pay-it-forward ministry.

“Mr. Arrington is a minister as well as a science teacher, so we invited him to speak to our group,” said Kade Howard.  “He just started at the school last year and we all knew that he was planning to go to Tijuana for surgery because it was less expensive than having surgery here. Before he spoke, we told him that we had something for him. We gave him a little gold box with our collection inside.  He almost cried when he found out what we had done.”

According to Shelia Howard, Arrington told the group that they lived their faith every day by helping others as they helped him and that they were awesome for inviting so many others into their circle of caring.

Howard began working with the youth at St. Patrick about five years ago.  For the first few years, she planned several events while school was in session and those younger than seventh grade were often included.

“We did a reverse Trick-or-Treat at Halloween a couple of times where the youth gathered to make up goodie bags for shut-ins. Then we would deliver the goodies to them as giving rather than receiving. However, many of the elderly didn’t want to answer the door because they thought the kids wanted candy and they didn’t have any since it was the week prior to Halloween,” she laughed.

They were more successful with delivering small, live Christmas trees to the sick, elderly and shut-ins throughout the community.

“Last year, we decided to try to meet once a month but it’s difficult to get everyone together. Our K-12 population is just around 200 students and that means everyone participates in every sport, so it’s difficult to find time for regular meetings.  We have a kick-off event in the fall with burgers on the dock and see what we can plan for next year.” •

by Linda Webster

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