By Kylee Bakley, a senior at Notre Dame High School, Elmira, New York

It’s always made me proud that my Nana was a graduate of a Sisters of Mercy school in Philadelphia. My Mercy education has instilled in me the compassion to help those who are less fortunate, so I’d like to tell you a little bit about myself and what I did over my summer vacation to create a community of welcome in my area.

I felt blessed to be able to work with Kathy Dubel at Catholic Charities, helping people who are experiencing homelessness and are in need of assistance and welcome. During my time there, I assembled and handed out 40 welcome art kits to both kids and adults at the local homeless shelter. I was thrilled later to hear that not only had 10 children already received my art kits, but they were thoroughly enjoying them, as well!

Growing up, I found great comfort in art. I would not be the person I am today if I hadn’t had access to art or been given the chance to let my imagination and creativity run wild. It’s my hope that other children can enjoy these experiences and have a positive way to express themselves and cope with their reality. If kids are introduced to art at a young age, it will have a great impact on them later in life and help them to be more creative people.

A few years ago, I started an art in the park program through Catholic Charities and managed it with the assistance of my parents. The goal of the program was to give children who don’t usually have access to art supplies an opportunity to create and have fun.

An image of one of the welcome kits created by the author.

This program continued every summer, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we were unable to have it in 2020 and 2021. I was determined, though, not to let the stay-at-home order stop me from doing what I love and from helping others. We couldn’t do the normal art program in the park? Fine, we’ll simply change things up a bit! I recruited my mom and emailed the head of Catholic Charities, and before we knew it, we were buying Crayola supplies in bulk! And while my dad may not have been too happy with my takeover of the kitchen and dining room, he was proud when we heard how the kids reacted to the art kits. Things might not have been easy or gone according to plan this year, but I’m glad to still be able to make a difference and help others, even from home.

If I were to give advice to other teens who are looking to create places of welcome within their communities, I would say that the best thing you could do is recruit your family and friends and put them to work. They will be your best allies, so don’t be shy about asking them for help! If you have a really good idea about a way to give back that you would like to set in motion, ask around and find a good support system and a place to help implement it. And the best and most important advice is to have fun. Even if you have a fantastic idea, no one will be enjoying themselves if they are not having fun. 

While you may make mistakes or goof up along the way, those moments are excellent learning experiences. So don’t be afraid to step up and help out in your community. Whether it’s creating your own charity, volunteering, donating or doing whatever you can from home, know that you are making a difference. The most important lesson I learned through this experience is the power of giving anonymously to help others—not for recognition or for satisfaction, but because you truly care.