ACTS-ME: Catholic Students at Louisiana Tech Minister to the Eldery

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by Jessica Rinaudo

When leaving for college, it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of independent living, classes and new friends, but often students find the distance from their families lonely and sometimes difficult to bear.

Cassie Rebeor, a student at Louisiana Tech was having a particularly difficult time with homesickness. That combined with the stress of college had her contemplating dropping out. But Cassie made a connection with a few elderly parishioners at St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in Ruston, and that began to change everything.

“By making this connection with this elderly parishioner and noticing how much of a need there was and how important having that connection was to both her and myself – it helped me stay in college and I picked up a minor in gerontology and it really redirected my life,” said Cassie.

This call to minister to the elderly quickly spilled over into the Association of Catholic Tech Students. The organization has an active and vibrant student-led leadership team. Together they decided to expand their work with new ideas, committees and ministries.

“I didn’t really know what I wanted to do because I didn’t want to take anything else on, but I did want to start visiting more of our elderly parishioners,” said Cassie. “So I talked with Brother Michael Ward, our campus minister, and I told him this is what I wanted to do. He said, ‘Cassie, why don’t we start a ministry to the elderly?’”

And so, ACTS-ME (Association of Catholic Tech Students – Ministry to the Elderly) was born with the help of around 12 other students. Like Cassie, other students soon found joy in visiting the elderly.

“It was the summer of my freshmen year, and I was bored and lonely,” said Tristan Kramer, a fellow Louisiana Tech student. “Cassie, one of the few students who stayed for the summer, invited me to visit Ms. Anne with her. I was hesitant at first, but it was a great experience. I had missed my grandmother who lived seven hours away. By visiting Ms. Anne, the hole in my heart got a little smaller. It made my day to see her smile.”

To launch the ministry, Cassie got in touch with Eucharistic Ministers at St. Thomas Aquinas Parish who knew of homebound and nursing home bound seniors who would like visitors. From those names, ACTS-ME created a binder with information on each participant, including their story and interests.

“For example if there was an individual who loved football, loved talking sports, like hardcore, then we would talk as a group and have a student who understood football and also liked football assigned to that individual,” said Cassie. “So we try to match interests so that way it’s easier to connect and make a really good friendship.”

Once participants and students are paired up, students go in pairs to visit once a week or once every other week. Together the students and elderly person play cards, watch the news or football and share stories.

One of the special ministries ACTS-ME students participate in is bringing Christmas joy into the homes and rooms of the homebound.  Sometimes it comes in the form of decorating that person’s home for Christmas.

“Decorating Ms. Anne’s house for Christmas was a standout moment,” said Tristan. “There were over 15 young college students singing Christmas carols, baking cookies, decorating a tree, and watching a game all in Ms. Anne’s little house. It was awesome. The pure joy on her face was beautiful, and I have no doubt she enjoyed every second of it just as much as we did.”

But not all living spaces lend themselves to big Christmas trees, so ACTS-ME has come up with some other ways to share Christmas cheer.

“We’re thinking about putting wreaths on doors,” said Cassie. “We also have a group from St. Thomas that goes and sings. Our choir will go and carol. So we’re going to partner up with them to bring some Christmas joy. … Christmas is when people really miss being home. And for someone who’s in a facility, or someone who’s homebound and their family can’t get to see them, having people come and sing with them and give them some cookies can really bring in the Christmas spirit.”

But not every visit is easy or joyful. Tristan recounts a visit that was particularly difficult.

“Cassie and I went to go pay a special visit to one parishioner. She was going through a tough mental battle because of her transition into the assisted living facility. … That hard visit touched me. It made me realize on a deeper level the hardships each elderly person goes through. In our society, it is easy to ignore the elderly, to forget that they go through struggles, pains and joys just like anyone else. They may not be as active or quick as they once were, but that does not change their value and worth. That visit made me realize the loneliness, fear, hopelessness, anxiety and despair that the elderly are at risk for. Our ministry is to reach out and love the elderly in anyway we can through service and friendship.”

There are some participants who get overjoyed when their student visitors come.  “They say, ‘Oh it’s the St. Thomas girls! Oh it’s the ACTS girls!’ They’re so excited. And they love talking to them. They love telling them their life story and hearing our life stories,” said Cassie.

“ My favorite part of the ministry is building relationships with the parishioners, especially my parishioner I am assigned to. I like to sit down and hear about her life, family and interests,” said Tristan. “I love hearing about her family members the most.… When she talks about family, she seems to glow with pride. It is very sweet. I like to hear her love stories too – of how she met her late husband  or how she lost her only son. When describing sad events, my heart breaks for her, but many times she talks about it so naturally with peace and wisdom. It’s a true joy and privilege to meet her and other parishioners, and be a part of their lives. It is humbling.”

“I see this ministry as an extension of my Catholic faith, because God calls us to perform corporal and spiritual works of mercy,” Tristan added. “I think that by visiting these beautiful people that I am doing those works He’s called us to do. In the most simple, basic terms, God calls each one of us to love unconditionally. I think this ministry reinforces that, because we’re just college students who want to love the elderly and let them know that they are not forgotten, they are loved, and they are valuable. God created them; they are valuable even if their minds or bodies aren’t in the best shape.”

Cassie and Tristan both encourage anyone who might be interested in participating in this ministry to join them on a visit. The time commitment is small and flexible and the benefit to both students and participants can’t be overstated.

“I think the big thing with anything when you’re working with any person – elderly or young, is just to step out of your comfort zone and open up. And that’s what ACTS-ME is really good about. We saw there was a need with our elderly parishioners and we took it,” Cassie said. “It’s all about you just showing them that they’re loved and St. Thomas still thinks about them and cares about them a lot.”

To go on a visit or become involved with ACTS-ME, contact Cassie Rebeor at cassierebeor@gmail.com.  •

One Response to ACTS-ME: Catholic Students at Louisiana Tech Minister to the Eldery

  1. Ellen says:

    Your Dad told me about this today & sent me the link so I could read it. He’s so proud of you & so am I. Love you, Grandma

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