Story by EmmaLee Italia, Correspondent
Earth Day inspired schools and organizations across the Diocese of Trenton April 22 to respond to Pope Francis’ call for the care of creation, taking time to participate in cleanup projects and planting.
Girl Scout Troop 70501 from Trenton Catholic Academy, Hamilton, newly formed in February, noticed that both the school’s courtyard and nearby Kuser Park needed some attention, having collected windblown trash.
“We wanted to clean up not only our own campus, but to be of service to others. So we picked up the litter … focusing especially near where the neighborhood children play,” explained troop leader Rose O’Connor, TCA director of marketing.
The activity falls in line with the Girl Scout Law, part of which states to “use resources wisely and make the world a better place, and be a sister to every Girl Scout.”
“We know how important it is to take care of the earth and be good stewards of God’s creation,” O’Connor continued. “The girls were surprised by how much they picked up … They worked hard, but had fun, too!”
“People need to remember to throw out their trash and recycle,” said second-grader Genevieve Wilson. “If we don’t use our land correctly, we could lose it!” Mariana Segura, third grade, agreed. “I hope it makes God and others happy that we cleaned up!”
The Mercer County Catholic Youth Organization’s Bromley Center, Hamilton, hosted its seventh annual Neighborhood Clean Up Day April 21, which included volunteers from CYO staff, students from nearby Nottingham High School, center program volunteers, members of the Bromley Teen Program and Royal Mentoring Program and neighborhood residents.
“[It] was a successful event. With the help of close to 25 volunteers, we were able to tackle some projects including beautifying Farmingdale and Bromley Parks,” said Patrick M. Hardiman, CYO Yardville Branch/Bromley Center director. “I want to thank all of the volunteers for their time and effort.”
The event included cleanup of the parks and surrounding streets and alleys, as well as painting park benches and planting flowers at both locations, and along East State Street, in the heart of the Bromley Center Neighborhood.
Students and staff of Georgian Court University, Lakewood, rolled up their sleeves April 22 and tackled the cleanup of Lake Carasaljo, which borders the university property. The Earth Day cleanup – a joint effort between GCU’s Beta Beta Beta Biological Honor Society chapter, Chi Alpha Epsilon National Honor Society chapter, and TRIO-Student Support Services, along with the Brick Township MUA and Lakewood Township Department of Public Works – resulted in the collection of 22 bags of garbage, a rusted high chair and a bed frame.
First-graders in Our Lady of Good Counsel School, Moorestown, began their observation of Earth Day with lessons on the benefits of green choices.
“Prior to Earth Day, we read about the importance of recycling and reusing,” said Brittany Vaspoli, first grade teacher. “Students learned about what can be recycled and how to reduce waste.”
Students used that knowledge to create a “My Earth Day Promise,” using ideas the class collected for keeping the earth clean.
“These promises included cutting the soda can holders before throwing them out, so sea turtles and other sea life do not get stuck in them. Another promise was to drive eco-friendly cars, and to simply stop littering,” Vaspoli explained.
The students created an earth personalized with their handprint in the center, to symbolize the intent to keep those promises.
Vaspoli also surprised the students by bringing in seeds, soil, and small pots, to grow their own plants.
“The first-graders have been studying the importance of plants in our environment and now it was their turn to grow their own,” she said. “[They] were thrilled knowing they were doing something good for their earth.”
Gauging their responses, her students certainly internalized the lesson.
“I learned that we should not litter!” said Declan Nolan. “I learned to recycle and always throw out your trash,” said classmate Reid Brown. Meredith Gaskill learned that “it’s not nice to pollute our Earth, we need clean air. I loved planting the seeds!” And Scarlett Fratantoro said, “Together we were able to write promises to our Earth, and even create our own Earth with green and blue paint that got a little messy. I had so much fun planting our seeds in our own pots!”
Mary Vanderhoof, parishioner of Our Lady of Sorrows-St. Anthony, Hamilton, gave a presentation April 22 about the nonprofit program “Change for Global Change.” The presentation in St. Ann Church, Lawrenceville, was attended by the St. Ann Green Team, parishioners and lay associates of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Philadelphia, to whom the cause belongs, and of which Vanderhoof is a member.
“It’s one of the charisms of the Sisters of St. Joseph, and came out of their commitment to care for the Earth – particularly their concern for access to clean water for all people of the world,” she explained of the non-profit’s 2006 founding. “It started simply by the sisters – many of whom were teaching in elementary and high schools – asking students to contribute their [pocket] change.”
The movement included educating students about the importance of caring for the environment and ways to reduce our carbon footprint and conserve water. All proceeds go toward the funding of grants for clean water projects around the world – wells, water pumps, rain barrels for village gardens, sanitation projects – in areas where the Sisters of St. Joseph minister.
“The sisters send out an annual campaign appeal to all the sisters in the larger federation of Sisters of St. Joseph,” Vanderhoof said, “and they chose to run it from Easter to Pentecost, because it’s a season of new life, and water is such a powerful symbol of Easter.”
The sisters emphasize that the projects funded by the campaign must be sustainable, to benefit future generations, and they encourage the use of local labor and materials.
“I wanted to raise awareness about what the sisters are doing,” she noted, “in hopes that other parish groups and Sisters of St. Joseph associates would take this on. As many Catholic schools are closing and sisters have been retiring, they are now trying to find more diversified ways of raising this money.”
For more information about Change for Global Change, visit www.changeforglobalchange.org, find them on Facebook, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mary Stadnyk, associate editor for The Monitor, contributed to this story.