HURLEY - Members of the youth ministry program at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Hurley got involved in their parish and learned about community service simply by serving breakfast with a smile Sunday morning.
The group offered a pancake breakfast to parishioners and community members for a youth ministry service project, religious education coordinator Julie Pecotte, of Hurley, said. About 10 students in seventh through 10th grades helped cook and serve breakfast and clean up.
Teamwork between younger and older students has its benefits, Pecotte said. "It's nice to kind of bridge that gap between seventh and 10th graders, because a lot of times the younger ones will feel intimidated," she said. "It's nice to ... have all of them working collectively."
Older students preparing for confirmation were able to count the time towards service hours required to be confirmed, while younger students were able to learn more about volunteering.
Twelve-year-old youth ministry program member Devin Kelly, a seventh grader at the Hurley K-12 School, helped out for the first time on Sunday. He said his favorite part was being able to serve the food, then eat it later. Kelly said he hopes to help at other community service events in the future.
Working alongside Kelly was Tandrell Foster, a 14-year-old Hurley freshman. Foster helped cook the breakfast sausage and served pancakes to hungry attendees. He said he's participated in service projects through St. Mary's and another local Catholic parish, and his favorite part is seeing the happy people.
Pecotte and parish member Teresa Vitovsky, of Hurley, said another main focus of the breakfast is visiting with attendees and for the parish to see the youth at work. "People like to see that," Pecotte said.
"(Parishioners) do keep (the youth) in their prayers," Vitovsky said. "A lot of the children are on somebody's prayer list for this year of preparation to be confirmed. This way, they can actually get to know them better, see how they have progressed from first grade on."
Pecotte said the youth ministry program hopes to have more service projects available to help fit into the students' busy schedules. They aim to "provide these projects for kids to get involved and give them the opportunity to volunteer within something that's familiar to them," she said. "Then, it'll create stepping stones so that they can volunteer in other aspects of their life."
The youth ministry program includes between 60 and 65 children in first through 10th grades. The students attend class for a couple hours each month and do service projects, which Pecotte said is a good way for them to express their faith without being overwhelmed by requirements to learn specific things that a class might have.
"This is an actual expression of their faith, so it works well for them," Vitovsky said.
Other service projects include some involvement with Operation Christmas Child, which collects shoebox gifts for needy families. St. Mary's youth ministry also organized and set up the church's Giving Tree during the holidays. Parishioners and community members took tags from the tree with details to purchase gifts for a Christmas party for the Head Start group that meets in the St. Mary's campus in Hurley.
A monthly event organized by the youth ministry program is Family Day, where children participate in Mass by doing readings, bringing Eucharistic gifts to the altar and singing in the choir. It's followed by a potluck meal and has been "a great community builder" for the parish, Vitovsky said. "As young as in first grade to 12th grade, students get very excited about participating. It's a tangible expression of their faith," she said.
Family Day "has really helped unite families with the church, and the children seem to love it," Pecotte said. The next Family Day is set for Sunday, Feb. 9, with Mass at 7 and 11 a.m.
Attendees of Sunday's breakfast paid a free will offering. Any proceeds from the event will benefit youth program activities.
Pecotte, who has coordinated religious education for St. Mary's for a little more than a year, is "doing a fantastic job," Vitovsky said.
Pecotte, however, said much of the credit is due elsewhere. "It's the volunteers who make it right," she said. "They make it work."