Catholic Charities Ventura will honor 39 at Partners in Service Awards Dinner.

As in years past, the 39 honorees at the 2012 Partners in Service Awards Dinner presented by Catholic Charities Ventura County serve in a wide range of ministries, with a common thread: their dedication to parish and community and commitment to their brothers and sisters.

Their parish ministries include education, Bible study and liturgy (lector, extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, environment, altar society, usher). Their community service includes Family to Family, Many Meals, caring for the elderly, youth activities, food drives and even the establishment of mission in Buseesa, Uganda.  

And more than a few of the honorees at the 11th annual Awards Dinner (expected to be a sellout), scheduled Feb. 12 at Blessed Junípero Serra Church in Camarillo, are especially dedicated to empowering youth to take on the commitment to service and live the Gospel by example.

Like Pamela Castro, a lifelong member of Holy Cross in Moorpark, who says service has always been a major part of her life. Growing up with a strong sense of leadership and serving others, she created a recreation program right out of high school for disadvantaged youth and helped arrange free bus transportation for the youth to Moorpark College facilities so they could participate in the program. 

Later she and her husband began a program for at-risk youth in Moorpark while she maintained a career as owner/operator of a preschool and after-school care center. Today, when addressing the youth at Holy Cross about the Food Pantry, she focuses on them, not asking for donations.

“I say to them that they may think they don’t have any power, but they do,” Castro explains. “They just have to learn how to use it positively. Just sharing some of their time at the Food Pantry or Senior Center, and seeing the expressions on the faces of those they serve shows them they are able to bring comfort, hope and compassion to someone in need. I tell them I am not there to ask them to give money, but rather to share their hearts.”

Marc and Pat Groff, parishioners of Our Lady of the Assumption in Ventura, are principals of St. Bonaventure High School and Our Lady of the Assumption School, respectively. They say that service is a regular part of school life for their Catholic students, and that the level of service gradually increases from elementary, through middle school, peaking in high school.

“Something that we’re always doing with the young children is teaching them that they have an obligation to give back,” Pat Groff says. “God has given us talents and gifts and all of the good fortune that we have, and it is our obligation to share that and turn it back around and do for others.”

And not just at Thanksgiving or Christmas.

“We make these things part of what we focus on all year,” Groff explains, “and hope that they will take it all with them as they move through high school and beyond and become active Catholics in their parishes.”

Mary Lou Garnica has found joy and a spiritual closeness to God from her years of service at St. Sebastian in Santa Paula. She and her husband George are regular participants in Family to Family, a program that serves meals to the homeless in Ventura. She says both her children and grandchildren have become more active in community service as a result of her own commitments.

“By example, you pass it on to your kids, then to their kids,” Garnica observes. “The more I do --- and they see how happy I am --- the more they want to do. I have brought my older grandchildren with me when visiting the convalescent hospital, and we bring treats for the patients. They see that their visit brings smiles to the patients.”

Catholic Charities Ventura County began the Partners in Service Awards to promote a sense of partnership between the non-profit and local parishes. The annual awards dinner is a fundraiser that helps Catholic Charities serve the increasing number of needy individuals and families in the county while recognizing the outstanding contributions of parishioners in the mission of serving those in most need.

At each of the Awards dinners, a guest speaker—someone who has received services — gives testimony about how life was changed as a result of someone caring enough to serve. “We strive to create an environment of cooperation with the pastors and parishes in serving the poor,” says John Rak, director of community outreach of Catholic Charities, Ventura County. 

Pamela Castro believes the power to change lives is in everyone’s hands.

“It’s about having a passion and focusing it,” she explains. “If people care deeply about something and just try, they can do a lot.”

Partners in Service Dinner set Feb. 12

The 2012 Partners in Service Dinner, presented by Catholic Charities Ventura, will be held Feb. 12, 6 p.m. at Blessed Junípero Serra Church, Camarillo. The honorees from 17 Ventura County Catholic parishes who perform extraordinary work in Christian social services include: 

Willaine Conroy and Pat Yost, Blessed Junípero Serra, Camarillo; Ginger Blum, Pamela Castro, Augustine Godinez and Paulette Swenson, Holy Cross, Moorpark; Rosalia Alcaraz  and Rafael Ortega, Our Lady of Guadalupe, Santa Paula; Julia Estrella and Bertha Tostado, Our Lady of Guadalupe, Oxnard; Marc and Patricia Groff, Bob Schilken and the Environment Ministry, Our Lady of the Assumption, Ventura; Dolores “Dolly” Attaway and Elvira Millan, San Buenaventura Mission, Ventura; Adoracion “Dorrie” De Jesus and Lupe Owen, St. Anthony, Oxnard; Jim and Connie Olson, St. Julie Billiart, Newbury Park; Tim and Pat Crosby, St. Jude the Apostle, Westlake Village; Deacon George Bednarr and Federico Ortega, St. Mary Magdalen, Camarillo; Elsie Fontenot and Kathleen Ireland, St. Maximilian Kolbe, Westlake Village; Tom McLaughlin, St. Paschal Baylon, Thousand Oaks; Daniel and Tracy Clark, Brian and Lisa Kane, St. Peter Claver, Simi Valley; Robert Goerisch, Robert Joyce and Earl Todd, St. Rose of Lima, Simi Valley; George and Mary Lou Garnica, St. Sebastian, Santa Paula; Richard and Virginia Oropeza and Lorenzo Ramirez, Santa Clara Chapel, Oxnard; and Conchita Diaz, Santa Clara Church, Oxnard. 

Additionally, Catholic Charities Ventura will present a St. Patrick's Day Dinner Dance March 10 at the Knights of Columbus Hall, 36 S. Figueroa Plaza, Ventura. An Irish Stew Dinner at 6:30 p.m. followed by Irish Dancers, music, dancing, auction and raffle. For more information call John Rak, (805) 279-8484.

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