March 22, 2013

Spirit of Service Awards will honor first-ever youth winner

By John Shaughnessy

At 17, Amanda Rulong has a refreshing and inspiring attitude toward being honored by the archdiocese with the first-ever Youth Spirit of Service Award.

“I like to serve people,” says Amanda, a junior at Bishop Chatard High School in Indianapolis. “I feel that’s what we’re called to do. It helps me get closer to God.”

Amanda’s attitude is shared by the three adults who also will be honored during the Spirit of Service Awards Dinner on April 18 at the Indiana Roof Ballroom in Indianapolis—Gary Ahlrichs, Paul Corsaro and Adonis Hardin. (Related: Tables are available for annual Spirit of Service Awards Dinner)

Here are the stories of this year’s recipients:

Amanda Rulong

Amanda RulongWhen David Bethuram shared the news that Amanda would receive the first-ever Youth Spirit of Service Award, the director of Catholic Charities Indianapolis also explained why the agency wanted to start the honor.

“We felt it was important to recognize the good works of young people, especially for those who are helping the poor and vulnerable in the community,” Bethuram said. “We hope that recognizing the youth volunteers will inspire others—both youths and adults—to volunteer and help those in need.”

Fittingly, Amanda was inspired to help others by the example of her older brother, Nick.

“He always wanted to go to the St. Vincent de Paul [Society] warehouse,” Amanda recalls about Nick, who graduated from Bishop Chatard in 2012. “I would go with him, and bring my friends. And our whole family would go. Nick is the best. I’m following in his footsteps. I’m expanding his legacy. I’ve always wanted to be like him, and this is my chance.”

As the outreach coordinator for her school’s student council, Amanda led a canned food drive that raised 30,000 cans to benefit six agencies that help the poor—Catholic Charities, St. Vincent de Paul Society, The Food Link, Holy Family Shelter, St. Augustine Home for the Aged and Christ’s Storehouse Food Pantry.

“She does her service with an immense amount of love and compassion for those she serves,” said Tyler Mayer, director of student life for Bishop Chatard. “It is clear that she is dedicated to the dignity of all by the way she dedicates herself to their needs.”

That dedication led her to spend her spring break on a mission trip to El Salvador.

“I want to know their stories,” Amanda said about the people in El Salvador. “I want to hear how God has changed their life and moved them.”

She has experienced that change in her own life.

“Every time I serve another person, I feel I’m becoming just like Jesus,” said Amanda, the daughter of Karen Rulong and Scott Rulong and a member of St. Simon the Apostle Parish in Indianapolis. “He died for us, so we can give our time to do something nice for somebody.”

Gary Ahlrichs

Gary AhlrichsGary Ahlrichs often gets his exercise by riding his bike to visit friends in nursing homes.

He has helped a 70-year-old woman named Ella learn to read through an Indianapolis literacy program.

He also serves as a tutor and mentor to Joshua, an 11-year-old boy from the Ivory Coast who he met through the archdiocese’s Refugee Resettlement Program.

“My dad was an immigrant from Germany,” noted Ahlrichs, 73. “He didn’t speak English, and a lot of people went out of their way to help him.”

The immigrant’s son has made helping people a big part of his life.

For the past 13 years, Ahlrichs has led the men’s group from Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Indianapolis in an outreach mission to make a difference in the lives of students at Padua Academy in Indianapolis [formerly St. Anthony School], a charter school operated by the archdiocese.

Through his leadership, the men’s group has bought music books and renovated the playground.

“For the Catholic Church, the ministry really belongs in the inner city,” Ahlrichs said. “The highlight for me is walking through the hallways of the school and seeing Immaculate Heart men tutoring there.”

Ahlrichs has always been there for his parish and Church, too. He and his wife of 51 years, Shirley, were sponsors for engaged couples for more than 20 years. The father of five and the grandfather of 11 coached sports at the parish for more than 10 years. And he has coordinated the parish’s blood drive since 1979.

“It’s all a way of showing gratitude for all the wonderful things in our lives—family, health, great friends, a great neighborhood, financial support,” he said. “Life has been good to us. I like to share that.

“So many people in the world are forgotten about. In my prayers, I always try to remember Ella and Joshua and the students and teachers at Padua. Because that’s my connection to the real world. They keep me grounded.”

Adonis Hardin

Adonis HardinAdonis Hardin keeps one goal in focus as she works the fish fry, sings in the choir, plans the Valentine Day’s dance and coordinates the income tax preparation program for low-income families at Holy Angels Parish in Indianapolis.

“I never look at it as volunteering,” said Hardin, who also counts the Sunday collection at Holy Angels and leads the parish’s effort to make Christmas baskets for people in need. “I just see it as doing what needs to be done for my Church family. I love the fellowship and just seeing Church members, family and friends come together to enjoy each other.”

Indeed, one of the main lessons that Hardin learned as the daughter of Adelaide Long is that when it comes to Church and family, the connection runs deep. For years, Hardin watched her 74-year-old mother direct the choir, clean the church and manage the kitchen at the school while taking care of her five children.

So when Hardin received the news that she was chosen to receive the Spirit of Service Award, she told her mother that the award was hers, too. Her mother beamed at Hardin and said, “You really deserve it.”

That feeling is shared by many at Holy Angels.

“There never seems to be a task too big or too small that Adonis doesn’t give it her all,” said Amanda Strong, a fellow member of Holy Angels. “Her work is consistent with the mission of Catholic Charities. In all that she does, she says she just asks the Lord to give her strength, and she will get it done somehow.”

Hardin downplays the praise for herself and passes it along to others, including to her husband, Nathaniel, for his support. She even makes a special point of mentioning her nieces and nephews, and her grand-nieces and grand-nephews, for helping out with the parish fish fry. Mostly, she gives credit to God.

“I just love working for the Lord,” said Hardin, who has a son and three grandchildren. “My ultimate goal is to get to heaven and serve him. The older I get, the easier I find it to open my heart to the will of God. I just try to walk the walk. I want others to see Christ in me.”

Paul Corsaro

Paul CorsaroAs an All-City middle linebacker at the former Sacred Heart High School in Indianapolis in 1960, Paul Corsaro learned a number of lessons about life that have continued to guide him.

Make the most of the talents that God gives you. Be responsible to the people who take the field with you. Give everything you have in the time you have. And have some fun along the way.

Corsaro has shared those lessons with the countless number of youths he has helped in more than 30 years of coaching in the Catholic Youth Organization.

“Helping kids develop their abilities and get ready for a fulfilling life has always been important to me,” said Corsaro, a father of six and a grandfather of 17 who will celebrate 50 years of marriage to his wife, Francie, in June.

Corsaro has also lived those lessons in his numerous volunteer efforts that have included Goodwill Industries, St. Mary’s Child Center in Indianapolis, his alma mater Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind., the archdiocese’s Catholic Community Foundation and Catholic Cemeteries Association, and his home parish, St. Barnabas in Indianapolis.

“My grandparents, my parents, my wife and I have all been taught to help other people,” said Corsaro, a lawyer. “Jesus Christ gave service to other people, and we’re trying to do the same. I want to thank God for all the blessings he has given me. I like doing it, plus it’s our responsibility to help others.”

In recent years, many of the influences of Corsaro’s life have blended as he joined with former high school classmates and teammates to establish Hearts & Hands of Indiana, a grassroots organization that offers hope and the opportunity for a new home to low-income families in the struggling areas of Holy Trinity and St. Anthony parishes in Indianapolis.

“If we can build a house over there and put a stable family there, that’s like a beacon of light in that area,” he said. “Hearts & Hands also gives me the opportunity to work with my high school classmates. That was the foundation for me growing up. It’s neat to work with them, and it’s neat to give a family a place to live that they would never have. For me, those are defining moments.” †

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