by Marc and Julie Anderson
CORNING — The exchange student from Paris had never seen anything like it.
Scheduled for a two-hour shift to cook sausage, 15-year-old Guilluame Chardin said he found himself enjoying the experience so much that he just kept right on working past his shift.
“I just kept going,” he said. “I’m just so glad I got to be part of this.”
“This” was something a lot more familiar to Corning Catholics — the pulling together of the entire community to support one of their own in need.
It was also an object lesson in giving back — something that instructor Melissa Talley said she tries to teach all of her religious education students at St. Patrick Parish in Corning.
Every year, Talley — who teaches high school students along with parishioners Dave Steinlage, Mark Huerter, Louella Talley and Mike Beckman — looks for ways the students can give back to their community. This year was no different.
In September 2017, Jerry Lueger, a parish finance council member, was diagnosed with CVST. Known as cerebral sinovenous thrombosis, CVST occurs when a blood clot forms in the brain’s venous sinuses and prevents blood from draining out of the brain.
As a result, blood cells may break and leak blood into the brain tissues, causing a hemorrhage. Lueger has been unable to work since his diagnosis.
After talking with the Lueger family, Melissa Talley and the other high school teachers discussed the situation with their classes.
“We gathered the whole high school group one night,” Talley said. “We told them we really think we have an opportunity here.”
Talley said she was overwhelmed and amazed by the students’ response. Not only were the students enthusiastic, but they immediately started throwing out ideas. They picked out potential dates to hold a benefit, decided on a breakfast with a silent auction, and selected a menu of pancakes, sausage, and biscuits and gravy — all from scratch.
When Louella Talley and Hannah Huerter, another religious education teacher, heard of the project, they suggested involving all 157 students in the religious education program. The pair also suggested the high school students, instead of the adults, should head up the effort.
Planning began in December when the high school and the junior high students divided all the benefit’s tasks. The junior and senior high school students handled all the advertising, including writing and designing fliers and announcements for use by area merchants, nearby newspapers and area parish bulletins.
They also identified and solicited area businesses for auction items, set up for the event, cleaned up afterward and worked two-hour shifts, cooking and serving.
“Everybody had their own little role,” said Melissa Talley. “They all had a piece of it.”
On the day of the actual breakfast, students in third through fifth grade bused tables, refilling food and beverages as needed. Prior to the benefit, students in kindergarten through second grade made table centerpieces. They also helped bus tables.
“We really did let the kids run with it, and they did,” Melissa Talley said. That made it amazing.”
And if there was ever any doubt as to whether the students could pull off the event, it quickly evaporated as week after week, the kids completed their tasks.
“Every week, they came back and said, ‘Yes, we did that.’ ‘Yes, we did that,’” Melissa Talley said.
Watching the kids take ownership of every detail — from advertising to greeting more than 1,000 guests served that day — inspired Steinlage.
“It wasn’t just one person leading it. It was fun to watch,” he said, adding that the entire parish community was amazed by the kids’ enthusiasm, manners and cheerful attitude.
Caleb Durland, a high school senior, said he was not surprised by his classmates’ ability to pull off the event.
“I had no doubt in my mind we could do this, no doubts,” he said.
The experience of “being vulnerable and open to the Lord” showed Durland anything is possible.
Every week, when classes met, the groups prayed that the benefit would glorify God and honor the Lueger family. A huge part of the success, Durland said, was due to everyone’s willingness to pitch in wherever they were needed.
“Teamwork goes a long a way,” he added.
Senior Rachel Koch agreed that while teamwork was important, so was everyone’s joy.
“It was just incredible to see everyone’s smiles,” she said. Despite long hours, she said every single person smiled all day.
“We all just do for one another what we’d want done for ourselves,” she said.
High school junior Jenri Conley, who was in charge of the pre-event advertising, went to the community building at 6 a.m. on the day of the benefit to make scrambled eggs. She stayed the entire day.
“Whenever I saw an opening, I kind of jumped in and helped out,” Conley said.
“I saw God in all these people,” she continued. “I feel like one of the biggest things I could take away from this is how God wants us to help other people in need and just how much we need to give out of the goodness of our hearts.”
Eight-year-old Tyren Talley, who helped collect trash throughout the day, agreed.
“If someone asks you to do something for a benefit, you should always say yes,” he said, “because it is helping someone’s family.”
This particular family happened to be the Lueger family.
Overcome with emotion, they were at a loss for words at first.
“They’re a great group of kids,” Jerry Lueger said.
“The older ones provided really good examples for the younger ones,” he added, and couldn’t believe the number of people who came to support his family.
“They just kept coming and coming,” he said.
Calling the whole experience “beyond words,” Karla Lueger said she and her husband found it “humbling and overwhelming to be on the receiving side” of such an awesome gift.
“God is good,” she said. “God is showing us so much love.”