Hightstown youth stay connected to community through service

“Sometimes we need to take a break from all the chaos in the world to look for opportunities in which we can be of good use and help others in need.”

That was the reason Kimberly Jaramillo gave for leading her youth ministry group in St. Anthony of Padua Parish, Hightstown, to volunteer amidst a global pandemic: outreach cannot wait.

Youth from St. Anthony of Padua Parish, Hightstown, helped restore horse stall doors at Riding High Farm, Allentown. Courtesy photo

“Sometimes we need to take a break from all the chaos in the world to look for opportunities in which we can be of good use and help others in need.”

That was the reason Kimberly Jaramillo gave for leading her youth ministry group in St. Anthony of Padua Parish, Hightstown, to volunteer amidst a global pandemic: outreach cannot wait.

The opportunity began as merely an idea in early 2020, when the youth ministry was approached by longtime St. Anthony parishioner and former youth ministry director Robert Orsetti about the need for assistance with painting horse stalls for Riding High Farm in Allentown – a nonprofit entity that provides equine-assisted therapies.

“[It] provides instruction to physically and cognitively challenged children and adults,” he explained. “Over many years, the finish on the doors of the horse stalls had deteriorated and was in obvious need of re-staining … Because RHF is always short on funds, the youth group contribution was especially important.”

COVID delayed their plans for months, Jaramillo explained, but following safety precautions, five teens and four adults were finally able to take on the painting project as 2020 started coming to a close.

“We are always looking for volunteer projects for the youth group, and this one especially attracted us because it was different from our other usual activities,” she noted.

Wearing masks and gloves, and employing social distancing, “we painted barn stalls … with the hope of providing a better experience for students and their families during their visits to RHF,” Jaramillo said.

Teen volunteer Stephanie Ordonez said that her favorite part of the painting project was “being able to bond with those around me and use teamwork to get the painting done well and efficiently. With everyone helping … we were all able to feel proud of the work we accomplished.”

Added fellow member Katherine Jaramillo, “It was an amazing opportunity to be able to paint, especially during these times. Helping others has always made me feel good … It is important to live out my faith in this way, because I can please God and those I help out with my actions and love.”

Orsetti said the youth were happy to help meet the needs of those with disabilities and their therapists.

“Those [faith and good works] lessons were instilled by both family and instruction received in the St. Anthony community,” he affirmed. “They participated with great enthusiasm, never complained, and stayed until the job was finished, even though it was well beyond the projected time limit.”

 Coming together in person was also exciting, Jaramillo admitted, since the pandemic has led to mostly online gatherings.

“It has been very difficult to do things together during these times,” she said. “Although virtual meetings haven’t been too effective, the other core members and I continue to pray for our teens constantly. We hope to be able to do a big gathering with our teens again soon!”

Orsetti agreed. “[During the pandemic] other means must be found to stay connected to the parish and community. Projects such as that with RHF offer a continuing sense of purpose as well as an avenue to stay connected to each other and the parish at large … [It] is a good example of finding alternate ways to contribute in difficult times.”

A youth ministry member helps at the farm, which provides therapeutic recreational horseback riding and more to those with physical and cognitive disabilities. Courtesy photo

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