March 10, 2017

Teen improves parish ministry to earn Girl Scout Gold Award

Cassandra Poynter, 17, right, and Children’s Liturgy of the Word participant Hannah Seitz, both of Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ Parish in Indianapolis, pose with mats and the cabinet Cassandra made to improve the children’s ministry in her parish. Cassandra’s efforts helped her to earn her the Girl Scout Gold Award. (Submitted photo)

Cassandra Poynter, 17, right, and Children’s Liturgy of the Word participant Hannah Seitz, both of Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ Parish in Indianapolis, pose with mats and the cabinet Cassandra made to improve the children’s ministry in her parish. Cassandra’s efforts helped her to earn her the Girl Scout Gold Award. (Submitted photo)

By Natalie Hoefer

At 17, Cassandra Poynter has attended and been involved with the Children’s Liturgy of the Word during Mass at Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ Parish in Indianapolis since before she can remember.

“I’ve been a part of [it] since I was a baby because my mom taught,” she says. “Then I went to learn. Then I became a helper about five years ago.”

The program is important to her not just because of her lifetime involvement, she says, but also because “the children listen to the readings at their age level and have the opportunity to discuss what they hear. They get more out of it than sitting in the church with their parents and not paying attention during Mass. I know that is how I felt at their age.”

But she noticed a decrease in the number of Children’s Liturgy of the Word volunteers—to the point that the ministry was almost cancelled—as well as other needs for change.

That’s why the senior at Franklin Central High School in Indianapolis took on improving the program as her project to receive her Girl Scout Gold Award, the equivalent of the Boy Scout Eagle Scout ranking.

She now wants to share her work to help other parishes start or improve their Children’s Liturgy of the Word program.

To earn the Gold Award, participants must identify a need in their community, research the issue, create a sustainable plan that can be carried on in the future, take action and lead others to bring about the plan, spending no less than 80 hours on the project.

In researching the issue of improving the Children’s Liturgy of the Word by talking with current and past volunteers, Cassandra identified some key organizational and material needs.

The materials used to teach the children were “just thrown in a tote,” she says. “Stuff got broken. Setting up took way too long.”

And with the lessons taking place in the church hall used by other ministries, she says, some of their items were mistakenly taken, including furniture used to teach about the altar and the sacrifice of the Mass.

“We wanted things just for us,” she says.

So Cassandra built and decorated a cabinet where the ministry could store all of its items, including a table she built to be used for representing the altar.

“Now things are organized and don’t get broken or taken,” she says. “Set up takes half the time—just pull out the table and put a cover on it, and you’re done with set up.”

Another issue was seating for the children. Previously, the children sat on unzipped sleeping bags.

“One of the teachers used a wheelchair, and her wheels would get caught on the bags,” says Cassandra.

Plus the sleeping bags were not easy to clean.

Her solution: design and create easily-cleaned mats for the children to sit on that could be stored in the cabinet.

Using vinyl table cloths and floor padding she procured through calling carpet companies for donations, Cassandra organized a group of volunteers and instructed them in cutting and stitching the table cloths around squares of padding.

“They’re easier for the kids to take out and put away, it gives them something to do, and they’re warmer for the kids to sit on,” says Cassandra. “Plus the table cloths are easy to clean if someone makes a mess. The teacher in the wheelchair has thanked me many times over.”

The material and organizational needs of the Children’s Liturgy of the Word ministry were solved. To address the problem of the dwindling number of volunteers, Cassandra created an informational DVD available for borrowing from the parish.

“It explains what [the teachers] do, how it’s rewarding and an easy way to get involved in the parish and help out,” she says.

Between the DVD and having announcements made at the end of Masses asking for volunteers, Cassandra says the number of Children’s Liturgy of the Word teachers has increased.

According to Deana Potterf, chief communications officer for Girls Scouts of Central Indiana, only 2.4 percent of the 2,000 girls eligible in 45 Indiana counties for the award last year actually pursued and achieved it.

“Besides significantly impacting her Church and community through this service project, [Cassandra] has also benefited from the opportunity to learn and practice skills like time management, budgeting, managing volunteers and much more,” says Potterf.

Cassandra will receive the Gold Award this summer.

Michelle Ross, director of religious education for Nativity, is grateful for Cassandra’s efforts.

“The improvements that Cassandra made let the focus be on the Liturgy of the Word,” she says.

“I really appreciate that she saw a need at Nativity and decided to take it upon herself to meet this need. I know how much work it is, especially when you’re in high school, to give your time and energy to a project outside all those required things.

“You can see it’s a passion for her to work with these children and for her to do what she can to help them focus on their time with God.”

That passion inspires Cassandra to offer her help to other parishes.

“I would like to see every church offer this ministry to their children,” she says. “Even though I am only 17, I would like to help anyone who is interested in starting or improving their current Children’s Liturgy of the Word ministry.

“The most important part about this [project] is that I believe the children are the future of our Church, and if we can keep them interested in the readings and going to church, then our Catholic churches will continue to have parishioners.” †

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