May 20, 2011

Holtz captures essence of Spirit of Service winners

Spirit of Service winners, seated from left, are David Jackson, Fiorella Gambetta-Gibson and Charles Guynn. Standing, from left, are award recipient Leo Stenz, Bishop Christopher J. Coyne and former University of Notre Dame head football coach Lou Holtz. (Photo by Rich Clark)

Spirit of Service winners, seated from left, are David Jackson, Fiorella Gambetta-Gibson and Charles Guynn. Standing, from left, are award recipient Leo Stenz, Bishop Christopher J. Coyne and former University of Notre Dame head football coach Lou Holtz. (Photo by Rich Clark)

By John Shaughnessy

For more than 45 minutes, Lou Holtz had delighted the audience with his stories of humor and inspiration.

The legendary football coach and motivational speaker had even performed a magic trick—ripping a section of newspaper into several pieces before apparently restoring it to its original, intact form.

As he neared the end of his keynote speech at the Spirit of Service Awards dinner in Indianapolis on May 11, Holtz had shared two of the three “rules of life” that he has used to guide his children, his players and himself:

Do the right thing, and do everything to the very best of your ability.

Now, Holtz looked at the large crowd in the Indiana Roof Ballroom to share the third rule.

“The last rule is probably the most important one,” said Holtz, 74, the former head football coach at the University of Notre Dame. “Show people you care.

“When you walk into a room, I don’t want your attitude to be, ‘Hey, here I am. Look at me.’ I want your attitude to be, ‘There you are. What can I do? How can I help you?’ The great football teams we had were because players cared. That’s all life is about—helping other people and caring about other people, and knowing you’re making a difference in people’s lives.”

Those comments matched the theme of the awards dinner, an event that celebrated the volunteer spirit of four Catholics in the archdiocese, and raised more than $150,000 to benefit Catholic Charities Indianapolis in its efforts to help the poor and vulnerable.

“This is such a great cause, and I’m happy to be here tonight,” said Holtz, now a college football analyst for the cable television sports network ESPN. “When people need love and understanding the most is usually when they deserve it the least. By the same token, when a community needs help the most is usually when they can afford it the least. These are difficult times, which is why Catholic Charities plays such a prominent role.”

That role of reaching out to help others has increased dramatically for Catholic Charities Indianapolis, according to its executive director, David Bethuram.

“For more than three years, the recession has disrupted lives, strained families and created an extraordinary need for basic services,” Bethuram told the audience at the awards dinner. “Many who have never sought our help before are now seeking assistance due to a job layoff or home foreclosure.

“Over the past year, Catholic Charities Indianapolis experienced a 30 percent overall increase in the amount of people requesting help from the programs [that] we offer. We served 28,000 people in need of food, of whom 15,000 were children. We provided more households with financial assistance to avoid disconnection of their utilities and possible eviction from their homes.”

The agency also strives to make the most of donations as 91 cents of every donated dollar goes toward delivering services to help people, Bethuram said. He also stressed the blessings of being able to assist people in need.

“The chance to serve Christ through the poor and vulnerable in our community is truly a blessing—both for those who come to us for help and for those who give of themselves.”

Those last words are evident in each of this year’s award winners.

Consider the life of Fiorella Gambetta-Gibson. An immigrant from Peru, she came to the United States in 2001 to further her education. Since then, she has volunteered to teach financial education classes to refugees as part of the Refugee Resettlement program of Catholic Charities Indianapolis.

She also serves as an example of hope to the refugees from Burma, Congo, Iraq, Nigeria and other countries, knowing that she once made the transition to a new world and a new life.

“We all like to feel that somebody cares about us,” she said.

That same feeling has motivated Leo Stenz in his service to others during the past 30 years. He is 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 chairman of the advisory board of Our Lady of Fatima Retreat House in Indianapolis. And every Saturday, he volunteers for a group called Beggars for the Poor, a ministry that is part of the St. Vincent de Paul Society in Indianapolis. Stenz helps distribute food, clothing and toiletries to homeless people.

“When you get outside yourself and help others in an unconditional way, you understand life a little better,” Stenz said.

David Jackson has followed that approach as a volunteer by using 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.

He also serves as vice president of the Wishing Well Fund, a small,

not-for-profit organization that provides food and gifts for 144 families at Christmas each year.

“The most rewarding aspect of giving is that I am answering what God has called me to do by using the vocations he has blessed me with,” Jackson said.

Charles Guynn also epitomizes that way of life. He has been a teacher, parish council president and longtime Catholic Youth Organization coach at St. Rita Parish in Indianapolis.

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 also served as the treasurer of the Indiana Black Expo for 17 years.

“You have to get down and help,” Guynn said.

That deep commitment to help others is at the heart of the Catholic faith, said Bishop Christopher J. Coyne, auxiliary bishop and vicar general.

“You know, Catholic Charities, that phrase is kind of redundant because charity is what Catholics do,” Bishop Coyne said at the end of the program.

“We just do charity. It’s who we are. It’s what we are. It’s Matthew, Chapter 25: ‘When I was hungry, you fed me. When I was naked, you clothed me. When I was a stranger, you welcomed me. When I was alone, you came to visit me. When I was sick, you comforted me.’ ”

Heeding that Gospel call makes a difference to the Catholic community and the people who need our help, he noted.

“Thanks be to God that we’re able to bring God’s love and God’s charity and God’s helping hands through all that we do,” Bishop Coyne said. “It’s how we spread the good words of faith.”

His words tied in nicely to a comment that Holtz shared earlier about the difference between being successful and significant.

“When you’re successful and you make a lot of money, you die and that ends,” Holtz said. “When you’re significant is when you help other people be successful. And that lasts many a lifetime. And I promise you, there will be many that you help that will turn their lives around and help others in the future. Your kindness will continue to generate for years to come.” †


Related story: Holtz inspires with his humor, words of wisdom

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