Youth ministry members Zaire Zotolla, left, and Anna Drescher, second from right, of St. Ann Parish, Browns Mills, got an early start on the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service project by decorating 60 gift bags in early January. The bags, full of personal care products, books and religious items, were delivered Jan. 19 to residents in the town’s Aspen Hills Healthcare Center. Pictured with the youth are Christopher Perry, youth group coordinator, and Lisa Fickenscher, co-coordinator. Courtesy photo
Youth ministry members Zaire Zotolla, left, and Anna Drescher, second from right, of St. Ann Parish, Browns Mills, got an early start on the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service project by decorating 60 gift bags in early January. The bags, full of personal care products, books and religious items, were delivered Jan. 19 to residents in the town’s Aspen Hills Healthcare Center. Pictured with the youth are Christopher Perry, youth group coordinator, and Lisa Fickenscher, co-coordinator. Courtesy photo
Arianna Sabolchick is pretty confident as to how her parish service project honored the legacy of one of American’s most famous civil rights leaders.

“We’re helping others and thinking of others just like he did,” Sabolchick said of the St. Ann Parish youth ministry’s MLK Day of Service project in memory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “Helping the community is a good thing, and we should feel honored to do that.”

The MLK Day of Service, observed this year Jan. 20, is a nationwide initiative to engage and unite communities in volunteerism and activism.

Photo Gallery: MLK Day of Service - St. Ann, Browns Mills

Sabolchick was one of about 20 teens from the Browns Mills parish who filled gift bags Jan. 19 with personal care products, prayer cards, Rosaries, books, magazines and blankets and delivered them to older residents in the town’s Aspen Hills Healthcare Center. More than 120 bags were handed out.

Christopher Perry, parish youth ministry coordinator, said it was his hope that the youth would learn an important lesson. “I want them to stay humble and count their blessings,” he said. “It [your circumstances] can always be worse.”

Perry grew up in Browns Mills and spent his youth being active in the parish. “The best feeling is giving back,” he said. “When I was a kid, I used to think getting stuff made me feel good. But giving back to people who actually need it, even if you’re not doing the greatest, giving whenever you can is much more precious, and it makes you feel better than receiving anything yourself.

“Except receiving a loved one’s love,” he added. “That’s the only thing that could equate to it.”

Youth ministry member Anna Drescher said filling the bags and delivering them to the residents reminded her of lessons she’s learned in the Bible – specifically, how Jesus always helped others.

“So to me, this is like being a disciple,” she said. “What’s going on out there [in the world] is a lot, and we’re really helping.”

She plans to keep paying it forward at the end of the month, when she goes to visit her 92-year-old great-grandmother. “I’m going to bring some gifts to her, like one of my Rosaries. It really means a lot to me to help the elderly,” Drescher added, explaining that her great-grandmother was key to bringing her and her family to the Church.

Lisa Fickenscher, co-coordinator of the parish youth ministry, said helping Aspen Hills was a good choice for a service projects because some of the parishioners are residents. “This was something where the youth could see people that belong to our parish and help them and our community.”

She was also quick to thank all the parishioners who helped make the MLK Day of Service a success. In the weeks leading up to the project, parish members donated seven large milk crates of items that were used for the gift bags.

“I was amazed by the donations by our parish and the number of children who helped out,” she said with a smile.

Video interviews by Rich Hundley contributed to this report.