Helping Hands St. Cecilia’s masters the fine art of volunteer recruitment

By Connie Cissell/ SUN editor
SOLVAY — After some careful planning, the parish community of St. Cecilia’s Church came together the weekend of Sept. 28-29 to promote volunteers and let people know what the parish has to offer. The Pastoral Council helped put together an informative issue of the parish newsletter, the Cecilian, that explained 18 areas of parish life and ministry. After all the weekend Masses, parishioners and visitors were invited to meet downstairs in the parish hall where there were tables set up and volunteers waiting to explain their various ministries to those interested in learning about how to get involved. The church’s pastor, Father George Hartnett, had talked about the event the weekend before and he invited people to stop by the volunteer areas after Mass.

Addie Silvia, Pastoral Council chair, helped organize the weekend event as a way to involve more people in the parish community, and she was thrilled with the outcome. Fifty-eight new volunteers signed up for the 16 service areas that were represented. The results were more than she had even hoped, Silvia said.

“I was absolutely blown away,” Silvia said. “I was hoping for maybe 10. That really made my day.”

The church was established in 1903 and many ministries have come and gone with the passing of time, but judging by the volunteer weekend, new life is about to spring forth.

The tables in the parish hall were covered with information about the Human Development Program, the St. Cecilia Prayer Group, St. Cecilia CYO, the St. Francis Club, Altar Servers, the Assumption Society and more. Volunteers from each area were on hand to talk to prospective recruits and explain what their group was all about.

The St. Francis Club is a group that disbanded for a few years but is experiencing a new birth of late. It is a social group for youngsters in junior high school. There is no membership fee and they gather the second Sunday of the month at 5 p.m. in the parish center from September through May. Christina Cavacas worked at the St. Francis Club volunteer table after the Saturday vigil Mass. She was eager to sign up a few of her peers to join the newly-rejuvenated club.

“The things that we do in the club are different than things we do at school,” the seventh grade religious education student said. “This is more laid back. We can do creative stuff and make things for other people and send it to them.”

Christina’s sister, Marianna, was in the St. Francis Club a few years ago and she said it was a fun group to be part of. “We had a lot of fun. It was a sort of smaller version of CYO,” Marianna said. “You get to see the other kids for who they are. If they’re with their other friends, they act a little different. When they come here, you see who they really are.”

The parish has something to offer young people after they leave the St. Francis Club and after they are confirmed. Peer Ministry is a part of the religious education program at St. Cecilia’s. It was initiated in 1991 and has added a new dimension to the life of the parish. The group is small but their work is very important. They receive training on how to lead small groups and then they help facilitate discussion for confirmation students in the second portion of their program. Lisa DeSpirito is a peer minister and she explained that the confirmation students meet at home in small groups with the peer ministers. “They listen to us more because we’re only two or three years older and we’ve just been where they are,” DeSpirito said.

The peer ministers also work on projects like the CYO haunted house and the confirmation class retreats. They are also trained to be liturgical ministers. DeSpirito is a Eucharistic ministers and a lector. She said she likes volunteering at her church.

“I kind of wanted to see what it is like on the other side,” DeSpirito said. “It’s different, it’s fun. You’re teaching them what you learned and it reinforces the values you learned and collected.” Sister Carmen Rose Nicita, MFIC, is a pastoral associate at St. Cecilia’s and she is heading up the Pastoral Care Volunteer Visitors. She used to serve as a hospital chaplain so she is well-equipped for her newest role. Training for the volunteers is necessary, Sister Carmen Rose said. There are 53 people from the parish who are homebound and 42 people in nursing homes that she tries to visit as often as possible. Adding this ministry to the mix will be a blessing for her. “I’ll be glad to have extra help, definitely,” Sister Carmen Rose said. Volunteers will visit the sick, homebound or those in nursing homes bringing them communion and spending time with them offering spiritual support.

Father Hartnett said that the involvement of the laity in the work of the church is crucial. “It is of the utmost importance now,” he said. “We certainly need our lay people to carry on our church. It is certainly a struggle but the people are grasping this understanding much quicker than the hierarchy is. We have three people in the Formation for Ministry Program right now…. Things are coming alive.”

The volunteer recruitment weekend was a success in many ways, Silvia noted. She said there were many people in the parish who had no idea that there were so many options open to them. “So many people came up to us and said they never realized the church had so much going on. There may be a little prayer group meeting that no one knows about and they could use some more members,” Silvia said. Now, the word is out.

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