South Charleston Parish Makes Sure At-Risk Youth Are Not Forgotton at Christmas

By Colleen Rowan

SOUTH CHARLESTON — For the past few years, Blessed Sacrament Parish has made sure the young residents at the James H. “Tiger” Morton Juvenile Center in Dunbar are not forgotton at Christmas. “…your generosity helps us restore hope for these at-risk juveniles and helps remind them that there is always someone who cares for them,” Morton Center staff said in a thank you letter to the parish. “God bless you!” The parish has been purchasing Christmas gifts for the youth at the center for the last four years. Father Finnell said the parish receives requests from many agencies asking to help with gifts, but the Morton Center caught their attention because it involved older kids. “We allocated $500 from our Tithe Fund to purchase age- appropriate Christmas gifts for the kids,” said Father John Finnell, pastor of the parish. “They are usually selected by staff members but this year we in-volved some of our youth group in the selection of gifts and will be doing that more in the coming years.” In the thank you letter, Morton Center staff said that many of their young residents do not receive gifts during the holiday, and without the donations from the community they would not receive gifts in the facility. “In the year 2020, there has been so much negativity,” staff said in the letter. “It is because of people like you, that we are able to continue to spread joy. A lot of people view our juvenile pop-ulation as youth who have made mistakes, which they have, but it is our goal to successfully rehabilitate them and reward them for their efforts and positive behaviors.” Mary Odin has been director of Music and Youth Ministry at Blessed Sacrament since June. It was suggested to her by fellow parishioner Natalie Zellers that the project was something the youth group might want to participate in. And through an online shopping spree, Odin and a few of the youth group members selected items they knew kids their age would appreciate as gifts.  “It was really fun,” Odin said, “and we’re already making plans to involve everyone next year.  Group shopping for other youth would be a great focus for a youth group Christmas party.  We’re planning, in faith, that we’ll be able to do it together in person in December 2021.” Odin went on to say that Zellers has been long involved with the project. In 2020 Blessed Sacrament Parish gave away about $77,000 through its Tithe Fund, which Father Finnell said is 10 percent of the Sunday offertory in addition to other designated donations, to special projects like the Morton Center. It also includes monthly allotments for the agencies the parish calls “Partners in Community Service” and to individual grants when needs come to their attention. “For many years we have had an informal covenant with Good Shepherd Church in East Bank/Coalburg because their tiny congregation serves an immense number of people in a high poverty area,” Father Finnell said. “Tithing is part of our stewardship philosophy in which we step out in confidence that in the King- dom of God everyone gives what they can and receives what they need.”