May 9, 2008

Spirit of Service winners committed to helping others

Two-time Indianapolis 500 champion and 2007 “Dancing with the Stars” champion Helio Castroneves speaks at the Spirit of Service Awards Dinner on April 30. (Photo by Rich Clark)

Two-time Indianapolis 500 champion and 2007 “Dancing with the Stars” champion Helio Castroneves speaks at the Spirit of Service Awards Dinner on April 30. (Photo by Rich Clark)

By Mike Krokos

The constant smile on Helio Castroneves’ face and his energetic personality puts anyone in the presence of the two-time Indianapolis 500 champion and 2007 ABC “Dancing with the Stars” winner at ease.

He happily poses for photos and jokes about his newfound stardom as a world-class dancer.

“Before the show [‘Dancing with the Stars’], I was a driver that could dance. Now, I’m a dancer that can drive,” he joked.

But to hear Castroneves share his story, getting to where he is today didn’t come easily.

There were the frustrations that came from learning a new language and culture when he moved to the United States in 1996 to pursue his dream of becoming a world-class race car driver.

On the race track, things initially were challenging in the States, too.

“Everything was going wrong. I hurt my ribs. It really affected my performance in the race car. I was crashing a lot. … It was all negative,” Castroneves said. “It got to where I was depressed.

“To me, it was the key point of my career.”

Castroneves said he got to the point where he thought he wasn’t meant to be a race car driver.

He called his mother and talked about coming home to Brazil, but it was her faith that helped bring perspective to Castroneves’ struggles and kept him grounded in his Catholic upbringing.

“My son, have faith,” she told him. “God’s love is like the ocean. We can see the beginning, but we cannot see the end.”

Castroneves, who was the keynote speaker at the annual Spirit of Service Awards Dinner on April 30 in Indianapolis, said hearing those words was comforting.

What was just as important in Castroneves’ faith journey was having an audience with Pope John Paul II at the Vatican in 2004.

“That to me was the most important moment of my life, to be in such an incredible presence, in a room with such incredible energy, with a vibe, it was like a movie,” he said.

When he got the chance to personally meet the Holy Father, Castroneves said he went blank.

“I kissed his ring and said, ‘I’m honored to be here,’ and he blessed me. For that moment, … to have my family—my mom, my sister, my dad—it was just so special,” he said.

Though Castroneves has gained fame in recent years, he still makes giving back to the community a priority.

Castroneves said the example his father set by helping him pursue his dream planted the seed for him to help others.

There are a lot of ways to give back to the community, Castroneves noted, including giving your time, which is what the race car driver decided to do.

Now a resident of Miami, Castroneves and his sister, Kati, decided three years ago to volunteer at the Miami Rescue Mission.

“They needed someone to listen and to play,” Castroneves said, “to laugh, and to take care of them.”

The rewards of volunteering there, he said, were “priceless.”

“At the end of the day … when I say goodbye to those kids, to see their smiles on their faces, that was priceless,” he said. “Instead of just giving my time, I was receiving something that is very hard to get these days, that is true love.

“They loved me because I was there, just spending time and listening to them.”

After that experience, Castroneves decided to join the YMCA in Miami to “help not just the kids, but everybody who needs a little bit of love.”

Love was at the heart of the annual Spirit of Service dinner, which this year raised $245,000 to benefit Catholic Charities Indianapolis in its efforts to help the poor and vulnerable.

The dinner also honored this year’s Spirit of Service winners, who like Castroneves are servant-leaders in their community.

Prisca Arredondo has been an active volunteer at St. Mary Parish since her family moved from Mexico to Indianapolis 20 years ago. She serves as a lector and an extraordinary ministry of holy Communion, and devotes many hours to being a catechist for children and adults. She also coordinates the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults for Spanish-speaking members of the parish, visits the parish’s shut-ins and does volunteer work for the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.

Theodore and Beatrice Davis earned their award for unselfishly sharing their time, talent and treasure. Throughout their 40-year membership at Holy Angels Parish in Indianapolis, they have participated in numerous volunteer activities, including serving as extraordinary ministers of holy Communion, running errands for shut-ins and visiting parish families grieving after the death of a loved one.

Constance Merkel was saluted for living the Gospel through her faith and pro-active leadership at St. Barnabas Parish in Indianapolis. In response to the 1985 U.S. bishops’ pastoral Economic Justice for All, she started a social action committee at the parish, which continues to provide a blueprint for making a difference locally and globally. Her leadership is reflected in a variety of parish outreach projects.

A member of St. Lawrence Parish in Indianapolis, Doris S. Parker was recognized for her pioneering spirit and dedication to eliminating poverty, fighting racism and creating opportunities for people who weren’t always given the dignity they deserve as children of God. She has served on the boards of directors of the Indianapolis Urban League, Community Action Against Poverty, the National Campaign for Human Development and the Central Indiana Council on Aging.

A special Community Service Award was given to the Hulman-George Family. For more than six generations, the Hulman-George family has served the community through charitable giving to Catholic organizations, universities and hospitals that benefit citizens of both Terre Haute and Indianapolis, including Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, Marian College, the Sisters of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Gibault Home for Boys and St. Elizabeth/Coleman Pregnancy and Adoption Services.

The Corporate Leadership Award was given to the Shiel Sexton Company Inc. Since its beginning in 1962, the company has helped build and develop many schools. It often provides “in-kind” donations for construction services as a way of helping schools and organizations. In 2007, Shiel Sexton donated $200,000 to Providence Cristo Rey High School in Indianapolis. The company also sponsors four students at Providence Cristo Rey through its corporate work-study program.

A sense of humility was evident in the award winners, who each made a videotaped acceptance speech that was shown to the audience as they received their awards.

Msgr. Joseph F. Schaedel, vicar general, saluted the award winners. He also encouraged those in attendance to continue showing compassion to the most vulnerable members of society.

“Never forget the people that you serve by your participation and your support of this event,” he said. “They are forever grateful.”

Catholic Charities Indianapolis helped more than 27,000 people through its 11 programs last year, said David Bethuram, executive director of Catholic Charities Indianapolis, and the numbers grow every day.

“We served families who couldn’t afford a place to live, families and individuals who needed emergency assistance—food or help paying their rent or utilities,” Bethuram said.

“We provided young people with a safe learning environment after school and during the summer. We helped families with relationship problems, and people caught in cycles of homelessness and also abuse.”

It is when we uplift individuals and rally the community to minimize the hurdles that we are most focused on the core attempt of our work, Bethuram said.

“To carry out our mission, many hands are needed. It is through your continued support of Catholic Charities Indianapolis … that we are able to address the serious needs of the poor and the hurting in our midst.” †

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