By Liz Mastalio
I think everyone is in agreement that something historic happened Jan. 20 when Barack Obama was inaugurated as our 44th president. What seems to have faded into the woodwork is what that same man did the day before, Jan. 19. President Obama declared that Martin Luther King Jr. Day would also be a day of service to communities.
Service is an integral part of Catholic life, and I think all of us know that, but many of us don’t go far enough in providing service. Most of us think we are doing well in the service department when we volunteer at church dinners for the homeless, visit homebound parishioners, or become a lector at Mass. This is great, but is your church the only place service is needed? Many of us are staying inside the lines, volunteering to serve in a place where everyone already shares the love of Christ, like a safety zone.
Since we’re still in the season of resolutions, I’m going to challenge you to a new one. Expand your service to the entire community. Spend time helping those who may not know God’s love, because they’re the ones who need it. Don’t forget the church, but reach out. In helping the rest of the community, you are helping the church by showing more people God’s love.
An obvious example of community needs is the flood-related relief efforts or other “emergency projects,” but there are many more opportunities to get involved. Participate in a cancer-relief walk, or volunteer to help organize one.
I joined a club at school this year called Best Buddies. It pairs a typical student with a student with intellectual disabilities, both of whom have similar interests. The goal is to foster friendships that are often hard for students with intellectual disabilities to form on their own. Being a part of this program has made my life a lot more enjoyable, too. My buddy, Lark, and I watch sports together, play games, or see movies. The only difference I have found between her and the average high-schooler is the appreciation she shows for things most of us take for granted. Mostly, she makes me laugh, something everyone needs. Best Buddies has adult chapters as well, and there are organizations such as Big Brothers, Big Sisters that make huge differences in the lives of the kids who participate.
People say they don’t have time for these things, but I don’t think that’s an excuse. I go to school every day, have homework every night, practice violin and piano, play sports, am president of the math club, go to Mass and do many volunteer things at St. Mary’s, including DYMC. Despite all this, I can still spare a Saturday afternoon or two a month to spend with Lark. It takes five minutes to send her an e-mail, and she appreciates it. Almost everyone can spare at least that much time, and the rewards are greater than if you sat and watched TV for those afternoons.
Just think about it. Set aside a total of six hours a month for community service, and see what a difference you can make. In six hours you could watch two basketball games, two movies, or read a book. Or, you could clean up a flood-devastated park, tutor a local student or make sure someone knows they have a friend. Which sounds like the better deal? I’ll let you decide.
(Liz Mastalio is a member of St. Mary Parish and a senior at Iowa City High School, both in Iowa City, and chair of the Diocesan Youth Ministry Committee.)