Church encourages youngsters to ‘Make a Difference’

t St. Gabriel’s enlists youth group in service day.

Everyone can make a difference in their community — even teenagers.

“Teenagers have such a great potential for compassion,” said Maria Murphree, who leads the youth group at St. Gabriel Church in Port Orchard. “They have so much to offer, and want to feel like they matter, but they’re not always taken seriously.”

This weekend, Murphree will be showing the teenagers she works with exactly how they can matter by fulfilling the needs of others in their own community.

Today is “Make a Difference Day,” an annual event launched nearly 20 years ago by the Sunday newspaper supplement USA Weekend Magazine. Scheduled for the fourth Saturday in October, the event is designed as a time for “neighbors helping neighbors,” according to the magazine’s website.

Murphree said the church began participating in the event 10 years ago, and it is now the “first service project for our youth group each year.”

This year, the theme is “Change Begins at Home,” and Murphree said the weekend will begin with a “sleepover” Friday night and a presentation about poverty and homelessness in Kitsap County.

“I will show them the video ‘Homeless in Kitsap,’” Murphree said, explaining that the movie was broadcast on Bremerton-Kitsap Access Television and she borrowed a copy from the Kitsap Regional Library.

“Most people are very aware of the national news and the crises happening elsewhere, but sometimes they’re not always aware of what people face in our own community,” she said, adding that while many of the teenagers she works with are used to seeing panhandlers in Seattle or other cities, they may not know that people nearby are sleeping under bridges, in their cars or on relatives’ couches.

“There are all different sources of homelessness, such as substance abuse, mental illness, domestic violence, or people who just don’t earn enough to keep a home,” she said.

And learning about these issues and how to help is particularly important now, as the economy shrinks and more people find themselves in need while others are giving less.

To learn how they can help, Murphree said the teens connect with local organizations to learn what their ten most-needed items are and help collect them.

“At St. Vincent de Paul, their greatest needs are for diapers, gloves, hats and toiletry items,” she said, explaining that the youth group won’t necessarily help a needy family directly, but they “will be part of the chain that’s helping.”

Once the teens have the lists of needs, they distribute them to parishioners at St. Gabriel’s and its sister parish, Prince of Peace in Belfair, and encourage them to pick up a few extra items as they do their regular shopping.

Today, Murphree said the teens will be sorting the donations and preparing them for delivery to the local organizations, along with making blankets for the church’s annual blanket drive.

“They make ‘tied quilts,’ which you create by tying knots to join the pieces of the quilt, instead of using a sewing machine,” she said.

This year, some of the quilts will also be auctioned off to raise money for Jaxon’s Cure, a local organization raising money to cure SSPE, which eight-year-old Jaxon Abalahin of Port Orchard died of this month. The auction and fundraiser is scheduled for Nov. 9 at Blondie’s restaurant.

After the event, Murphree said she hoped the spirit of helping will stay with the group for years to come.

“If you start thinking about (others in need) when you’re younger, it always has meaning because you made the connection early on,” she said. “And, if expose (young people) to all sorts of different ways to serve others, something is going to click with them. You can’t expect that everyone’s going to want to work at a food bank or hospital, but the more things they know about, the greater chance they have for finding a passion.”

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