Local kids volunteer for valley-wide Catholic Mission

  • Jon Winkler / ?Nashoba Valley Voice

    Volunteers in the Nashoba Valley Catholic Collaborative's Mission outside the house of Bob Hammond in Ayer.

  • Jon Winkler / ?Nashoba Valley Voice

    James Kolak of Groton working at the house of Ayer-resident Bob Hammond as part of the Nashoba Valley Catholic Collaborative's Mission Days

  • Jon Winkler / ?Nashoba Valley Voice

    Shealyn Finlay flattening material meant to serve as a base for Ayer-resident Bob Hammond's new driveway being built by volunteers with the Nashoba Valley Catholic Collaborative Mission Days

  • Jon Winkler / ?Nashoba Valley Voice

    Conor Finlay working on the new driveway for Ayer-resident Bob Holland as part of the Nashoba Valley Catholic Collaborative's Mission Days

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AYER – On a hot Wednesday afternoon in near-90 degree heat, a group of kids are spending their summer in an odd way: digging into the ground and chopping away at a tree stump.

It’s not as fun as a day at the beach and the only compensation the kids are getting for their hard work is a lunch break. So why do it?

“I like the idea of helping others in town,” Conor Finlay, 16, of Ayer said. “They need help here so why can’t we help them?”

“It’s fun because my friends are here and we can just talk and laugh,” said his younger sister, Shealyn, 15, said. “I would want to do this a lot more in the summer. I’ve done nothing like this before, but I like it anyway.”

That charitable nature is common in the participants of the Nashoba Valley Catholic Collaborative’s Mission Days. The three-day event involves attendees of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Ayer and St. Anthony of Padua Church in Shirley. Led by church members and local residents, the mission involves volunteers helping out senior citizens and struggling residents with their homes and daily activities.

While the mission involves a spattering of tasks throughout Ayer and Shirley, most of the 25 volunteers participating this year were hard at work at the home of Bob Hammond. The 82-year-old Ayer resident received a touched-up porch, new outdoor walkway, a freshly-clipped front lawn and a new drive-way that Hammond can easily back out of from his Harvard Road address that sits right before the entrance to a busy rotary.

Joe Leone, St. Mary’s youth minister and one of the coordinators of the mission, said that this is the third year the mission has helped Hammond and the third year of the mission itself. He said he came up with the original idea to put together a mission trip outside of town, but budget and participation troubles got in the way.

“I decided it would be better for us to have a mission trip here, where there is plenty to do,” Leone said. “This is better because it’s for our own community. They say you save the world starting at home and we’re doing our part to keep our community prospering.”

Not only are volunteers doing the outdoor landscaping for Hammond, but Leone noted that volunteers have done smaller tasks as part of the mission. These include common chores like painting fences and washing windows to more advanced tasks including installing a carbon monoxide detector and training senior citizens how to use modern technology.

Leone added that the churches get the word out about needing volunteers for the mission through Ayer and Shirley’s Council on Aging, along with announcements during mass services. Of course word gets from the adult attendees of mass to their children, like 12-year-old Dylan Bishara who said his dad told him about the mission. Bishara ended up getting his hands dirty by removing troublesome bushes in local neighborhoods and cleaning up headstones at St. Mary’s Cemetery.

“The first day I came here, I thought it was really fun,” Bishara said. “I wanted to come back.”

Leone sees the mission not only as a means for the kids to earn community service hours, but also long-lasting life lessons.

“There’s a lot we do outside of the work here,” he added. “It’s teaching them about service, camaraderie and cooperation. I get to see what a great feeling about themselves they get.”

Hammond, born and raised in Ayer himself, certain doesn’t mind the help afforded to his home. He also enjoys seeing kids giving a helping hand to the community, being a former Boy Scout leader for 58 years.

“These kids are working hard they don’t stop,” Hammond said. “You think you’re not known in this town then have these kids come help you out, that’s fantastic. When you walk down the street and someone says, ‘How ya doin’ Mr. Hammond,’ those are the treasured moments.”

Jon Winkler: @MrJW595 on Twitter