April 15, 2011

Giving hope to others guides Spirit of Service winners

By John Shaughnessy

Spirit of Service logoCharles Guynn has a wonderful approach to life that he shares in a few sentences.

“The Lord has blessed each of us with talent,” Guynn says. “I believe that we should give back to the community, and the bonus we receive is the Lord’s grace. The reward is seeing what your talents have done for others. You can see it in their faces. I see hope. That’s the whole thing—to instill hope.”

That emphasis on sharing one’s talents and giving hope to others not only guides Guynn, but also the other people who will be honored by the archdiocese with the Spirit of Service Award—Fiorella Gambetta-Gibson, David M. Jackson and Leo Stenz.

The four winners will be recognized during a May 11 dinner which will benefit Catholic Charities Indianapolis. Legendary football coach and motivational speaker Lou Holtz will be the keynote speaker at the event. (See related story here)

Here are the stories of this year’s winners.

Fiorella Gambetta-Gibson

As an immigrant from Peru, Fiorella Gambetta-Gibson came to the United States in 2001 to further her education. Yet the lessons she endured in a new country were often more difficult than the master’s degree business administration classes she took at Butler University in Indianapolis.

“In the beginning, it was very hard,” says Gambetta-Gibson, a member of St. Mark the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis. “I struggled with English. When you come here as an adult, it’s a big difference than coming as a child. You’re in a new culture in a new country learning a lot of things at a time. It’s overwhelming.”

That experience guides her 10 years later as she volunteers to teach financial education classes to refugees as part of the Refugee Resettlement program of Catholic Charities Indianapolis.

She provides lessons in the importance of establishing credit, the potential dangers of credit cards and the necessity of creating a budget to help them achieve their dreams of owning a house or pursuing an education.

“I also try to pass along the message that everything takes time,” she says. “I tell them they need to be consistent, they cannot give up, and they always have to try.”

The refugees from Burma, Congo, Iraq, Nigeria and other countries draw strength from her, knowing that she once made the transition to a new world and a new life. And she draws strength from them, seeing the often amazing transformations they make in just a few months.

“They’re happy. They’ve improved their English skills. They have a job. They have hope,” she says. “It really is a great experience. You always have to wear the shoes of other people. That’s what compassion is about. And we have to care. We all like to feel that somebody cares about us.”

Charles Guynn

When Charles Guynn was a teacher and a volunteer Catholic Youth Organization coach at St. Rita School in Indianapolis, he always made his players wear suits to their basketball games. It was one of the ways he tried to make a statement to the boys and to anyone else watching that their training involved more than sports—it was about an approach to life.

When Guynn was later the national secretary of the Knights of Peter Claver, he was once among a group of about 100 people, mostly African-Americans, who had a special audience with Pope John Paul II. When the pope told the group that their struggles of the past had shaped them as strong survivors for the present and the future, Guynn was moved to tears.

“When he was talking about strife and hardships and the gifts we bring, that caused me to recommit to the Church, that it’s inclusive, that it’s part of our life,” Guynn says. “The pope solidified to me that I’m Roman Catholic. I’m an African-American who is Roman Catholic.”

That source of cultural and religious strength has led Guynn to build a life that often focuses on helping people who are in need.

Now 63, he has served St. Rita Parish often through the years, including as president of the parish council. He has taught classes in diversity education to law enforcement officers and college students at Indiana University and Indiana University- Purdue University Indianapolis. He has served as the treasurer of the Indiana Black Expo for 17 years.

He has also spent his years looking for ways to make a difference to one person at a time.

“It’s more than giving money in the collection,” he says. “When you know that three pews up, there’s a family that needs partnering or a child who needs tutoring, you just can’t give lip service. You have to get down and help.”

David Jackson

As a general contractor, David Jackson has often volunteered to use his construction skills to benefit Holy Family Shelter, St. Mark the Evangelist Parish and elderly people who seek help from the Central Indiana Council on Aging.

“I go into the poorest neighborhoods of Indianapolis, and these people have so little,” says Jackson, a member of St. Mark Parish. “For one woman, I put in a shower base and repaired steps in a basement. Then I cleaned out the trash from her basement. She was so grateful. Maybe it’s a way of evangelizing my faith—above and beyond what I’m expected to do for them. I see Christ in these people.”

It’s an approach to the world that Jackson says he learned from his parents and his grandparents—an approach that believes there is nothing more important than faith and family, and that the concept of family doesn’t stop with the people who share a house or a name.

As proof, Jackson mentions that one of his favorite volunteer efforts is the Wishing Well Fund. He serves as the vice president of the small, not-for-profit organization that provides food and gifts for 144 families at Christmas each year.

“Throughout the year, we also help people get their utilities paid or turned back on,” Jackson says. “If a car breaks down and it’s the only one in their family, we’ll help to get it fixed.”

He has also served as an adult leader for the Boy Scouts, and has volunteered his construction talents as a member of the Knights of Columbus Council #3660 on the south side of Indianapolis.

“Everybody has something to offer,” he says. “I believe that it was St. Francis who said, ‘Always preach the Gospel, and if necessary use words.’ I am not a man of many words. I would say the most rewarding aspect of giving is that I am answering what God has called me to do by using the vocations that he has blessed me with.”

Leo Stenz

For 15 years, Leo Stenz led high school students from St. Luke the Evangelist Parish on 10-day retreats into the mountains. He viewed the trips as a way to share the beauty of God’s creation with the teenagers, and to help them grow in their relationship with Christ.

For nearly the past 30 years, Stenz has been on his own faith journey—a journey in which he has come closer to God through his service for others.

He is the chairman of the board of the foundation for Visiting Nurse Service, a foundation that has created a home in Indianapolis where homeless people come to live the last days of their lives.

He is also the chairman of the advisory board of Our Lady of Fatima Retreat House in Indianapolis, reflecting his commitment to a place that helps people re-energize their spirit and deepen their faith.

Then there is his hands-on work with a group called Beggars for the Poor, a ministry that is part of the St. Vincent de Paul Society in Indianapolis.

“We take a truck downtown every Saturday and serve 200 homeless men, giving them clothing, toiletries and food,” Stenz says. “About 12 of us run that part of it. When we go down there, we go with the attitude that it’s an enjoyable way to spend a Saturday.”

On that part of his faith journey, he has invited high school students to care for the homeless. Students from Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School, Bishop Chatard High School and Father Thomas Scecina Memorial High School, all in Indianapolis, have taken that walk with Stenz.

“I encourage them to ask the men their names and ask about their stories,” Stenz says. “For the first time for many of these kids, they’re absorbing that these guys are real. It’s fun and energizing to see these kids involved.”

That’s the feeling Stenz gets from helping others, a feeling he wants to share.

“It’s 100 percent of my faith journey,” he says. “When you get outside yourself and help others in an unconditional way, you understand life a little better.” †

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