Service day makes 400 youth ‘part of something bigger’

Youth group members of St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Detroit help Brighter Haven Senior Center residents make Valentine-themed picture frames. For more photos, visit

Youth group members of St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Detroit help Brighter Haven Senior Center residents make Valentine-themed picture frames. For more photos, visit

Detroit — The girl helped the elderly man finish his craft project and said goodbye to him, adding “I’ll see you tomorrow at church, right?”

She and her youth group from St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Detroit were finishing up their time at Brighter Haven Senior Center in Detroit, where they had spent several fun hours with the residents as part of the “2014 Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service in the D” on Jan. 18.

The St. Charles teens were part of the more than 400 youth who had gathered in the city of Detroit for the third annual service day sponsored by the archdiocesan Black Catholic Ministries and Youth Ministry offices.

The event kicked off at 9 a.m. at Sacred Heart Parish in Detroit, where participants received yellow t-shirts bearing the quote from Martin Luther King Jr.: “Everybody can be great because anyone can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree, you don’t have to make your subject and verb agree; you only need a heart generated by love.”

“I cannot speak for Martin Luther King Jr., but if he were here today, standing and looking over this wonderful group of people, he would be very, very proud,” said Fr. Norman Thomas, pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Detroit, to the gathered participants.

John J. F. Thorne, director of Black Catholic Ministries, said in his own address to the crowd that there are everyday opportunities to serve the community, but today is special and it is important to “do it like the Master would do today.”

“It may be a small-impact change (today), but it will have great effects on our community,” he said, ending with the phrase “Do it in the D!” echoed excitedly by the participants.

YFACT, (Young Faith Activators of Christ’s Teachings), a project of Urban Youth Ministry with the archdiocese, also gave a short presentation about their “Change for Change” initiative seeking to help Core City Neighborhoods, a community development project in Detroit, by collecting pocket change.

Later that day, three of the youth groups present for the day of service went to Core City Neighborhoods to help organize the donations.

The three represented parishes assisting at Core City were St. Colette Parish in Livonia, Sacred Heart Parish in Dearborn, and Our Lady of La Salette Parish in Berkley. A large part of the job involved sorting books donated by the former library of Our Lady of La Salette’s school, which closed in June 2013.

“I had brought over some books myself previously and cannot describe the joy in the kids’ faces, because many have not had the experience of getting to bring a book home,” said Mary Jo Parnell, coordinator of youth ministry at St. Colette.

The three youth groups were also organizing donated toys and clothing as well as toiletries, Parnell said, and several young people were assembling Valentine’s Day bags filled with candy, a toy, and snacks for local children.

At the end of their service, the youth gathered again at Sacred Heart for lunch and fellowship. A special prayer service, led by music from the Urban Youth Choir, concluded the service day.

Janae Robinson, a 17-year-old member of Sacred Heart Parish, the Urban Youth Choir and YFACT, said the day of service inspired her.

“It’s inspiring how many young people came and are actually excited about it,” said Robinson, whose group helped sort clothes and shoes to give to local shelters. “You always hear about what young people aren’t doing and this is a great way to show people what we are doing.”

She described the day as “a humbling experience — it’s kind of tiring work, but somebody has to do it!”

Suyvann Creer, 16, said it showed “we’re part of something bigger.”

“We got to meet new people and connect with one another on so many levels,” she said, expressing the hope that those who were helped would be inspired to “pay it forward” themselves.

Ian Lavant, 11, and Timothy Ward, 12, described a mural painted by their group, explaining that it depicted “signs of hope,” with a “big winter wonderland and kids skating, skiing, sledding, and a big sunset.”

Lavant said that the mural was being put up in an area frequented by drug dealers “to show that people who aren’t drug dealers are strong.”

The mural project was part of Detroit’s Brightmoor Alliance, a coalition of local organizations focused on transforming the community, which has already led several other initiatives to paint positive, colorful murals around the city.