By Rose O’Connor | Correspondent
"Life's most persistent and urgent question is, 'What are you doing for others?'"
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once asked an audience this question in Montgomery, Ala., in 1957.
And in Hamilton Township, New Jersey, that same question posed by Dr. King received intriguing responses by several groups and individuals some 59 years later.
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At the 13th annual tribute to Dr. King held Jan. 14 a in Faith Baptist Church, Trenton, groups including the CYO of Mercer County and two students from Trenton Catholic Academy, Hamilton, were honored for how they responded to ‘What are you doing for others?’
The CYO was the recipient of the Hamilton Township Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Spirit of Community Service Award, and TCA’s Faith Edwin and Kassandra Sanchez, received the Second Annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Community Service Scholarship Award.
The recipients were selected by members of the Tribute Committee and were presented their awards by Hamilton Township Mayor Kelly Yaede.
“It’s so important for us to be here not only to honor Dr. Martin Luther King and his message, but for all of us to come and to gather and to be here from such diverse backgrounds to celebrate and to honor his legacy,” Yaede remarked.
Faith Baptist Church pastor Lance Walker provided the keynote address, and introduced a member of his congregation, Victoria, who immigrated to the United States from Italy when she was six years old. Victoria marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in both Washington D.C. and Selma, Alabama.
Pastor Walker focused his address on King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” and encouraged people to welcome people who are different into their lives and their homes.
“We can all make a difference if we would just invite people over who don’t think like us, who look like us, who don’t vote like us. If we can do that in our homes then we can continue to do what Dr. King lived and died for.”
The awards were presented following a beautiful rendition of Leonard Cohen’s, “Hallelujah,” by Isaiah Alston, a Hamilton resident and Top Ten finalist on the “X-Factor”.
Daughter of Charity Sister Joanne Dress, executive director of Catholic Social Services for the Diocese of Trenton, introduced Thomas G. Mladenetz, who accepted the Spirit of Community Service Award on behalf of the CYO of Mercer County.
Mladenetz began his career in 1976 at the CYO and his since been part of the organization as either an employee, volunteer or member of the board of trustees.
“During his tenure the CYO has grown tremendously,” Sister Joanne shared, “with a full-time staff of 48 individuals, 80 part-time staff, and seasonal staff of over 100. There are 5 sites that serve over 1,200 children daily, and 1,300 each day in the summer. The CYO also serves approximately 1,200 students from Catholic schools and parishes in seasonal athletic leagues.”
She continued, “It brings Tom great joy to serve an organization he once participated in as a child.”
“I accept this award on behalf of the Catholic Youth Organization of Mercer County. I’ve had the privilege of serving as executive director for 22 years now and I’m very, very proud of the work done by the CYO staff, not just here in Hamilton Township, but throughout Mercer County. Serving the community is what we do every day,” said Mladenetz.
Mladenetz shared credit for his award with outreach organizations in the Diocese of Trenton, “the CYO is an organization within the Diocese of Trenton Office of Catholic Social Services. The work done by our collective team throughout Mercer and the other counties of the Diocese is truly amazing.”
He also praised the work done by Catholic Charities, Mount Carmel Guild and Visitation Home, and recognized the ecclesial leadership in the Diocese of Trenton.
“Sister Joanne and Bishop David M. O’Connell inspire and motivate the community in the best possible ways every day.”
Sister of St. Joseph Dorothy Payne, president of Trenton Catholic Academy, introduced the seniors who received the Community Service Scholarship Award. She acknowledged the cultural diversity that is present at the school.
“One of the blessings that we can say id no one is left behind. We have a family that comes together and shares together. And I think that is what Dr. Martin Luther was talking all about; a culture of people enjoying people and sharing our gifts and talents to make this world a much better place,” said Sister Dorothy.
She concluded by paying homage to the school founder, Msgr. Michael P. McCorristin, who has said, “Serve the youth, to whom God gives tomorrow.”
“In doing that, we are taking a look at not only educating our youth but also giving them the foundation that they need to go and help others. Community service is a very vital part of our academic and our school community. The children need to learn to reach out and help others because that’s what this world is all about.”
The two students who were acknowledged for their community service certainly exemplify the spirit of helping others.
Faith Edwin has not only served those in need in the city of Trenton at the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen (TASK) but has also traveled to Tanzania in Africa to build a water system and has also worked along biologists in Cost Rica, studying and tagging sea turtles.
“I am extremely passionate about what I do, seeing it as an opportunity for spiritual growth as an individual,” she spoke.
“This award validates that my hard work and efforts are paying off and it inspires me to continue on this path.”
She thanked her family, friends and faith communities at TCA and Our Lady of Sorrows School.
Her friend and classmate, Kassandra Sanchez, also expressed her thanks in receiving such an award and included, “I thank God for leading me on a bright path in life, for blessing me with all of my gifts and talents, and for inspiring me with the confidence that anything is possible. I am confident that I am prepared to lead a meaningful life, a life that promotes peace and unity just like the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.”