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Bringing Hope for Others

For Lansing teen Emmie West, the Advent and Christmas seasons offer important opportunities to open her hands—and her heart

At Lansing Catholic High School, students are proud to claim service as a way of life. During Thanksgiving and Christmas, students and their families eagerly share food, gifts and other essentials with families in need of a little extra support.

For some students, however, the instinct to serve goes much deeper.

Senior Emmie West has been helping others for as long as she can remember.

“It all started with my grandfather,” Emmie says. “Papa is a deacon at St. Therese Parish in Lansing, and devotes each day of his life to serving others. Ever since I was little, he has asked me to do small activities around his parish and walk with him as he performed acts of service around the community. My admiration for Papa and his selflessness has shown me the power of helping others.”

It’s a lesson that’s taken deep root with her. It’s also shown her the power small acts of charity and service can have in the lives of others.

“About five years ago, my family and I were walking to see Martin Luther King Jr.’s birth home in Atlanta, when a homeless man approached my dad,” Emmie remembers. “He was in torn white pants with stains that almost made the pants look yellow, a ball cap, and half of a shirt that looked like it had been eaten by an animal. He was clearly malnourished and in need of shoes.”

Emmie’s heart broke for the stranger.

“As he begged for money, I saw the desperation in this man's eyes. I just couldn’t leave without either me or my family helping him in some way,” Emmie says. “I tugged on my dad’s shirt and whispered in his ear, ‘Daddy, he needs us.’”

Emmie’s father responded by giving the man some money, enough for a cup of coffee and a breakfast sandwich.

“That is all he needed to be satisfied,” Emmie says.

But what happened next was a moment of pure magic.

“I turned back, and saw the man on his hands and knees, thanking the Lord for nourishment,” Emmie says. “It was just a few dollars but, in his life and in that moment, that was enough. We were so blessed to be there in that one moment, acting as God’s hands and feet in the life of someone who needed us.”

Emmie says that, in that moment, she felt perfectly happy.

“I grew in unimaginable ways from one experience alone, and ever since then I live with the intent that I am always capable of doing more for people,” she says.

Emmie no longer counts the number of service hours her school requires of her—she reached the minimum number long ago. Instead, she serves willingly, gratefully and wholeheartedly.

“I have learned that service can be – and is – one of the most powerful aspects in a person’s life,” she says. “Now, I serve with the intent of bettering myself and making a lasting impact on others’ lives.”

When she goes to college next year, Emmie will bring with her the lessons of charity and service gained at the side of her grandfather.

“‘Be humble, kind, and always have hope.’ Papa told me that,” Emmie says. “I try my best to live a life that he can be proud of every day.”

How to Help

For many of us, the Christmas spirit enkindles a renewed desire to give to our neighbors in need.

While there is no shortage of opportunities to share what we have, sometimes it can be difficult to know where our giving can do the most good. The best bet? Start with your home parish.

“Most parishes have a ‘giving tree’ or other structured opportunity for sharing,” says Richard Budd, director of marriage and family life in the Diocese of Lansing. “Most local Catholic schools also have collaborative ways to offer support to families in need. By calling their offices or visiting their websites, you can readily find out how to get involved with their activities.”

Other opportunities:

St. Luke’s N.E.W. Life Center, Flint

St. Vincent Catholic Charities, Lansing

Cristo Rey Community Center, Lansing

Catholic Charities of Jackson, Lenawee and Hillsdale Counties

Catholic Social Services of Washtenaw County

Catholic Charities of Shiawassee and Genesee Counties

Livingston County Catholic Charities